Oh lordy, let’s watch a wingnut freak-out over nothing.
Conservatives don’t tend to like art. They feel intimidated by it. They don’t understand it. They get their fee fees hurt when art does what art is supposed to do by provoking thought and feeling, by pushing boundaries in order to provide commentary, etc. Liberals don’t get freaked out in the same way — we understand that, hello, it is art, and if it is Not Your Thing, you are not being forced to look at it or buy it.
So, the freak-out comes to us via Roy Edroso, who brings it to his readers by undertaking the entertaining, if tedious, task of reading Kathryn Jean Lopez’s words at the National Review. K-Lo is freaked out about this piece from “Penny Starr” [drag name, most likely], a “reporter” for CNS “News.” You see, there is an exhibit that has been running for a while at the Smithsonian, and will be running through the holiday season and after, and you see, it has naughty GAY stuff in it, and all of this is, of course, part of the War on Christmas, and is, of course, Too Soon, never forget, etc.:
The federally funded National Portrait Gallery, one of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, is currently showing an exhibition that features images of an ant-covered Jesus, male genitals, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show’s catalog as “homoerotic.”
The exhibit, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” opened on Oct. 30 and will run throughout the Christmas Season, closing on Feb. 13.
Right on through Jesus’ birthday party!
Penny then goes on to detail what has become the exhibit that’s causing the most [stupid] problems [among people who don’t understand or respect art]:
“A Fire in My Belly” was created by David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992). The full-length version of this 1987 video, according to the description at the exhibit, is 30 minutes long. The version viewable in the National Portrait Gallery has been edited down to 4 minutes. The description says, “A Fire in My Belly, a compilation of footage largely shot in Mexico, weaves together numerous images of loss, pain, and death into a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic; it concludes in a picture of the world aflame.”
The description speaks of the video artist’s “poetic, yet furious, condemnation of the way greed, religion, and selfishness conspire to label certain people as outside the scope of our caring.” It also quotes Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS, as saying, “When I was told I’d contracted the virus, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I’d contracted a diseased society as well.”
The four-minute version of the video shown in the exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery shows, among other images, ants crawling over the image of Jesus on a crucifix, two halves of a loaf of bread being sewn together, the bloody mouth of a man being sewn shut, a hand dropping coins, a man undressing, a man’s genitals, a bowl of blood, and mummified humans.
A differently edited four-minute version of Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” video posted on YouTube shows images of ants crawling over the image of Jesus (as does the version exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery), but also shows a man masturbating (an image which is not included in the edited version exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, which only shows a man’s genitals.). The YouTube version also carries a soundtrack that is different from the version exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery.
Cue the sanctimonious rubes of the new Republican House majority, because it’s CULTURE WAR OUTRAGE TIME!
The Catholic site CNSNews.com brought the exhibit — called “Hide/Seek,” which “contains video of a Jesus statue with ants crawling on it, as well as works of art with strongly sexual themes” — to Boehner and Cantor’s attention, asking what they thought of it. They could have responded, “We have other shit to do before worrying about the aesthetic merit of some art exhibit in Chinatown,” but that would’ve been too easy. Instead we get:
“American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy,” Boehner’s Spokesman Kevin Smith told CNSNews.com. “While the amount of money involved may be small, it’s symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions involving Americans’ hard-earned money at a time when one in every 10 Americans is out of work and our children’s future is being threatened by debt.
“Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves to end the job-killing spending spree in Washington,” Smith said.
MURRIKAN FAMILIES SHOULD NEVER BE CONFRONTED WITH ART OR EDUCATION, or moreover, with worldviews that are different from the average heartland teabagger, he is basically saying.
So, of course, the Smithsonian caved to the hicks:
The National Portrait Gallery has removed a work of art from a GLBT-themed exhibition after it attracted conservative and religious ire for its images of homosexuality and Christianity. Director Martin Sullivan announced the removal of A Fire in My Belly by artist David Wojnarowicz after conservative news service CNS wrote yesterday that the “Christmas-season exhibit,” which opened in October, used taxpayer money to indirectly fund an exhibition that includes imagery of genitalia, homoerotic situations, and Christ covered in ants.
Publicist Bethany Bentley says that until the article was published, the museum had not heard a single objection to the exhibition. “On Friday we had over 10,000 visitors to the gallery, and we had no complaints,” she says.
Well, of course there were no complaints. Before the manufactured outrage from people whose idea of “appreciating art” is picking up Thomas Kinkade prints on clearance, the people who were aware of the exhibition were People Who Go To Museums. There is very little overlap between the two groups.
Of course, this didn’t stop the wingnutterie from engaging in a little Muslim-bashing, because you see, Christians are an oppressed minority in Murrika, etc.:
If these “artists” really wanted to be daring and controversial, they’d create an ant-covered Quran exhibit. But the cowards take the path of least resistance and then applaud their own courage in the face of minuscule risk.
AIDS? Please, stop these BS excuses, it was meant to offend.
Yes, moron, it’s a piece about AIDS. And if it offended, if it was shocking, perhaps there is an artistic point being made that can’t be explained in the two verses, chorus, bridge and key change of a Toby Keith song. Perhaps.
So anyway, the Culture Wars are back, I guess. The next two years are going to be such a waste of our time.
For the sake of art, the indeed disturbing Wojnarowicz piece, in its modified YouTube version, is after the jump. No, it is not safe for work, which is why it wasn’t exhibited at Your Work, but rather in a museum of art. You may watch it or not watch it. It’s harrowing, especially with the Diamanda Galas soundtrack added. I will say, though, that the outrage over this piece, the pearl-clutching and whatnot, is simply proof that this piece of art is extremely effective, whether or not you are moved by it.