Smithsonian Fallout Update: An Official Resigns, Stephen Colbert Weighs in, and Wojnarowicz Shows Abound
A little more than a week has gone by since Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough's fateful decision to bow to pressure from conservatives and remove a work by David Wojnarowicz from the "Hide/Seek" show at the National Portrait Gallery, and the institution is in crisis. Last night, a draft statement obtained by ARTINFO, written by National Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan and strikingly more apologetic in tone than the steadfast public statement that he actually issued, showed that the Smithsonian was undergoing internal debates about how to respond to the uproar around the censorship. Meanwhile, public pressure has continued to mount, with the New York Times' editors, among others, chiming in.
A further crack appeared in the Smithsonian façade today, as National Portrait Gallery commissioner James T. Bartlett resigned in protest, a fact reported by ARTINFO blogger Tyler Green. Besides being a high-profile blow to the museum's credibility, this move will also likely hit it in the pocketbook: Bartlett's name appears in the Smithsonian's 2009 annual report, under the category of donors who gave between $1,000 and $24,000.
Today, the Andy Warhol Foundation, a lead supporter of "Hide/Seek," issued its own condemnation of the Smithsonian's action, saying that it was "disappointing that the museum chose to bow to political pressure and cut off any meaningful discourse before it could begin." To document the passionate discourse that has followed the removal, the College Art Association is now keeping an archive of all the statements by major figures and organizations who have spoken out about the Wojnarowicz affair.
Meanwhile, the list of institutions showing Wojnarowicz's censored work as part of a solidarity campaign continues to expand. There is now an entire Web site, Hideseek.org, dedicated to chronicling screenings of Wojnarowicz's work and other shows of support. Among the latest institutions to join in are the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and Stanford University.
Elsewhere, the two activists who were banned from the Smithsonian last Saturday for trying to show the video on an iPad outside the "Hide/Seek" show are back with a vengeance, and have issued a press release stating that they are trying to get a permit to show "A Fire in My Belly" in a temporary structure as close as possible to the premises. Plans for what exactly this would look like have not yet solidified, but one of the men, Michael Dax Iacovone, told DCist that "the most logical option so far seems to be a trailer."
One person yet to throw her weight behind the solidarity campaign, however, is punk rocker, photographer, and all-around icon Patti Smith, who is going ahead with a scheduled appearance at the National Portrait Gallery on Saturday, according to the Washington City Paper. Given that Smith will be speaking about her memoir, "Just Kids," which focuses on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, her actions are notable. Many pundits have observed the chilling similarities between the current political controversy, and the conservative attacks on Mapplethorpe's "A Perfect Moment" show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in the 80s. A spokesman for Smith's publisher told the City Paper that the artist would not comment on the current controversy.
Finally, you know something has entered the national conversation when it makes it to Comedy Central's "Colbert Report." Stephen Colbert dedicated a few choice words in his most recent "Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger" segment to the Wojnarowicz uproar. True to form, his right-wing blowhard character defended the removal of the video, saying that the decision was "based on the finest aesthetic criteria — Republicans threatened their funding." Representative Eric Cantor's bullying attack on the artwork was fair, he said, though he added that the politician's words had drawn "all kinds of fire from art critics, who, no surprise, just don't get Cantor's work." Cantor's statement, Colbert explained, was really an "anti-paradigmatic-revolutionary work of conceptual-art-banning."