Last year, when the Smithsonian hosted “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” a groundbreaking exhibit exploring gay and lesbian themes in American art, the Religious Right unified in protest. Inspired by a CNSNews story titled “Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibit Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts,” and egged on by the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, the campaign against the exhibit quickly gained the support of soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Within a day they succeeded in pressuring the Smithsonian to remove the most controversial work from the exhibit, David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly.
Last week, the exhibit opened at the Brooklyn Museum, famously the site of the Giuliani-fueled controversy over the 1999 “Sensation” show. Within days, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brooklyn sent a letter to the museum protesting the exhibit, and a small coalition of GOP elected officials followed up with a letter accusing the museum of “Christian-bashing.” New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser also weighed in, calling the Wojnarwicz work “a revolting piece of slime.”
However, the museum hasn’t budged in its support for the show, and the Right’s efforts to censor the work have mostly fizzled. Donohue himself has decided it’s not worth expending too much effort –instead simply issuing a statement reiterating his disgust with the exhibit and accusing Wojnarowicz of bringing about his own death from AIDS.
Left to fill the vacuum so far have been a far-right Catholic group inspired by a Brazilian fascist movement and an artist who was previously known for painting a heroic George W. Bush on horseback holding Osama bin Laden’s severed head.
On Sunday,America Needs Fatima, a campaign of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP), held a protest in front of the museum. TFP is a spin-off of a Brazilian movement that has been called “neo-fascist.” TFP’s foundational text is a treatise by founder Plinio Correa de Oliveira, which argues that the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and Communism have in their turn undone a natural order that must be restored. While the main American branch of TFP mostly focuses on anti-gay propaganda [pdf], America Needs Fatima is dedicated to organizing “anti-blasphemy” campaigns against targets like The Da Vinci Code, editorial cartoons and Madonna’s planned performance at the 2012 Super Bowl.
The other notable protest against the Brooklyn Museum has been that of Staten Island artist Scott LoBaido, who was thrown out of the museum after showing up with a painting of the museum’s director sitting on a toilet filled with green muck. LoBaido has been protesting art that he sees as blasphemous since at least 1999, when he was arrested for throwing horse manure at the Brooklyn Museum to protest the “Sensation” exhibit. His own work is not always negative, though. Along with his year-long project painting flags on rooftops across America, LoBaido has created fawning, heroic portraits of Ronald Reagan and of George W. Bush brandishing the head of Osama bin Laden.