Smithsonian’s Chief Defends Removal of Video from Gay Exhibit
Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough on Tuesday defended his decision to remove an artist’s video that depicted ants crawling on a crucifix from an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, saying a controversy over the short clip threatened to overshadow its first major exhibition on gay themes in art history.
Critics had blasted Clough’s decision as verging on artistic censorship while members of Congress and a Catholic group had complained that the video was sacrilegious.
In his first public response to questions on the issue, Clough said the controversy overshadowed the exhibition and threatened to spiral beyond control into a debate on religious desecration. He said he acted to preserve the overall exhibit, "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture."
"I still believe it was a right decision and I’m still proud that that exhibit is still up and thousands of people are coming and learning what we hoped they would learn from it," Clough told The Associated Press.
In November, the Catholic League complained that the video, "A Fire in My Belly," by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, was sacrilegious because of the crucifix clip. The artist’s work explored the subject of AIDS. Wojnarowicz died of complications from the disease in 1992 at age 37.
The exhibit also includes works by major artists including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Thomas Eakins and Annie Leibovitz, among others. It’s the largest exhibit ever staged by the Portrait Gallery.