On Friday, the Brooklyn Museum will begin hosting “Hide/Seek,” an exhibit about the experience of gays and lesbians in American art that provoked a firestorm of criticism from the Religious Right when it opened at the National Portrait Gallery last year. The New York museum has decided to include in its show A Fire in My Belly, the compilation of video work by the late artist David Wojnarowicz that was ultimately removed from the National Portrait Gallery show. Now, in what feels like a replay of last year’s drama at the Smithsonian, Republican politicians in New York are attacking the Brooklyn Museum for hosting “Hide/Seek” and Wojnarowicz’s work and demanding that it censor the exhibit.
The film A Fire In My Belly, a compilation of surrealist film footage exploring the suffering of people with HIV/AIDS, which was pulled from the National Portrait Gallery following complaints from Republican and Religious Right figures. While the Brooklyn Museum is defending itself from censorship proponents, Republican politicians are beginning to make threats against the museum. Republican state senator Andrew Lanza introduced legislation to have the government withdraw “all public funding of the museum”:
“It is outrageous for an institution that accepts funding from city, state and federal governments to display content that is so blatantly disrespectful and offensive to Christians during the holiday season,” said Senator Andrew Lanza. “Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for hatred and ignorance.”
Senator Lanza believes that the actions of the Museum are analogous to a hate crime. He is calling for all public funding of the museum to be withdrawn.
Rep. Michael Grimm, Councilman James Oddo, Councilman Vincent Ignizio, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, Assemblyman Lou Tobacco and Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro signed onto a letter condemning the exhibit:
In 1999, the Museum presented the shock art exhibit “Sensation,” which featured a painting of the Blessed Mother Mary surrounded by pornographic images and covered in elephant dung. This week, the Museum is opening another controversial exhibit, “Hide/Seek,” which will include a film featuring ants crawling over the image of Jesus on a crucifix – just in time for the Christmas season. This is not art, this is Christian-bashing. This is an outrageous use of taxpayer money by the nation’s second-largest art museum, and an obvious attempt to offend Christians on the eve of one of the holiest times of the Christian faith. … As I’m sure you’re aware, this sacrilegious film was pulled from an exhibit at the Smithsonian last year after House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor objected to the use of taxpayer dollars to show a film patently offensive to Christians. I respectfully request that you do the same.
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who led the charge to censor the Smithsonian exhibit, condemned the New York exhibit in a statement. “The fact is that the artist who made the vile video died of self-inflicted wounds: he died of AIDS,” Donohue writes. “The homosexual, David Wojnarowicz, hated the Catholic Church (had he lived by its teachings, he would not have self-destructed.”
For Arnold Lehman, there is no such thing as anti-Catholic art. Catholics who disagree are apparently too stupid to appreciate the complexities of these masterpieces. For example, in 1999 Lehman said it was not anti-Catholic for an artist to smear elephant dung and pornographic pictures on a portrait of Our Blessed Mother (he loved the “Sensation” exhibition). Now he says that a video featuring large ants crawling all over Jesus on the Cross is actually a statement about “human suffering and death.” Guess us stupid Catholics missed that one, too.
The fact is that the artist who made the vile video died of self-inflicted wounds: he died of AIDS. The homosexual, David Wojnarowicz, hated the Catholic Church (had he lived by its teachings, he would not have self-destructed). He once referred to Cardinal John O’Connor as a “fat cannibal,” and labeled the Catholic Church a “house of walking swastikas.” Sounds like the words of a bigot. But perhaps I’m too stupid not to understand that they were really meant to endear the artist to the Catholic community.