A makeshift censorship museum outside the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. is attracting more attention than the museum itself. At issue is the removal of a piece of work by a gay artist critiquing what he saw as indifference to the AIDS epidemic by Christians in the 1980s — the artwork featured ants crawling on a crucifix. Those behind the censorship museum, established in a trailer parked out front, say the work was removed after pressure by incoming House Speaker John Boehner. And they want the museum held accountable.
Sue and I stumbled across the place this weekend on a whistle-stop tour or the nation’s capitol:
Since censorship is the issue, I feel I’m doing a service by disseminating the story. Here’s what happened, my précis of a handy timeline on the wall inside the museum (you can download the more thorough pdf version by clicking here):
On November 29, a blogger for the purportedly “anti-gay” Media Research Center tweeted a blog post denouncing the Hide/Seek exhibit of gay and lesbian art at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Among many of the works the blogger condemned was a four-minute video by the late David Wojnarowicz, called “A Fire in My Belly,” that included 11 seconds of ants crawling on a crucifix as a metaphor for what Wojnarowicz saw as Christians’ indifference to AIDS in the 1980s. Wojnarowicz died of AIDS in 1992.
On November 30, incoming House Speaker Boehner and incoming Minority Leader Eric Cantor threatened Smithsonian funding in statements sent to the Media Research Center’s blog. The Smithsonian sent out an email announcing the removal of the “ant crucifix” video from the exhibition — the result of a decision made by Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough.
The two men behind the censorship museum, Michael Iacovone (left) and Michael Blasenstein, were in there with their laptops, and let me take their picture:
They were both detained by police officers in December for trying to show the work inside the Smithsonian on an iPad. I guess that’s when they came up with the idea to hire a trailer.
Iacovone and Blasenstein feel that Clough, the museum’s secretary, made a “wrong and shameful decision to marginalize the work of an already marginalized gay artist from an exhibition whose very theme is marginalization.” And the evolution of their new museum has been chronicled by the Washington City Paper, if you’re interested to read more. Sure enough, the controversial video was on show for those interested in seeing it:
It was alright. Although I suspect I would have gone for the Warhol and walked straight past it in the regular exhibit, if the museum hadn’t ignited such a fuss by pulling it at the last minute. Museum secretary Clough has since been quoted saying he didn’t want the video to create “a distraction,” but surely that’s the very role and essence of art in a free society. I admire these guys for their chutzpah in forcing the issue. What an inspiring piece of artistic theater.