Catholic League President Bill Donohue’s time in public life has been centered on pushing anti-gay bigotry, ridiculing progressive Christians, and promoting censorship and boycott campaigns. He most recently won a notable victory when, with the help of GOP leaders and other social conservatives, he convinced the Smithsonian to censor an exhibit on the marginalization of gays and lesbians in America. The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery removed a film by the late artist David Wojnarowicz exploring the suffering of people with HIV-AIDS because the video, which included a short clip of ants crawling on a crucifix, might “spoil the Christmas season.”
Rattled by the Smithsonian’s decision to censor its exhibit, other museums began screening the film. Today, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) announced that it has acquired Wojnarowicz’s banned film, A Fire In My Belly, leading to a swift and ugly response from Donohue and the Catholic League.
In a statement released today, Donohue tried to use President Obama’s speech in Tucson, which called for greater civility and dialogue in American politics, as a reason for the MoMA to keep challenging and provocative artwork such as Wojnarowicz’s film out of the public eye. (Of course, there is a very significant difference between the violent imagery and incendiary rhetoric that the President criticized and the intense, but nonviolent, debate that the artwork in question might engender.) And then, after misusing the President’s call for civility, Donohue switched gears and engaged in the same gutter politics and hate mongering, even calling MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry a “corporate welfare queen,” that have long-defined his career:
In Tucson, President Barack Obama correctly noted that “our discourse has become so sharply polarized” that it has disfigured our society. He made note of the “lack of civility” which marks our culture, beckoning us to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.” And just one day later, MoMA announced that he was wrong. It wants a sharply polarized society; it delights in incivility; and it abhors empathy. That is why it has decided to assault Christian sensibilities by hosting the vile video.
“We really do live in a time when anything can be hailed as a work of art. This has naturally led to a proliferation of pretentious and often pathological nonsense in the art world.” Those words were penned ten years ago by noted art critic Roger Kimball. As evidenced by the reaction to this “artwork” by the artistic community, nothing has changed.
Unlike the Smithsonian, which is federally funded, MoMA is largely supported by fat cats like Glenn D. Lowry, the museum’s director, thus alleviating some of our objections. Lowry makes over $2 million a year and lives for free in a $6 million condo atop the museum. Unlike the rest of us, he pays no income tax on his housing.
Looks like the artistic community got fleeced twice: once by embracing the “pathological nonsense” of this masterpiece, and once by the corporate welfare queen who runs—and lives in—the joint.