Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Controversy

Please take action!!

I recently received an email forwarded from Jennifer Sichel, the research assistant for Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture (October 30 through February 13, 2011), described as follows:

“…the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture. “Hide/Seek” considers such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern America; how artists explored the fluidity of sexuality and gender; how major themes in modern art—especially abstraction—were influenced by social marginalization; and how art reflected society’s evolving and changing attitudes toward sexuality, desire, and romantic attachment.”

The email declares:

“Dear friends,

As many of you know, I spent several years in DC putting together a show at the National Portrait Gallery called Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. The show casts the history of American art through a queer lens, challenging our assumptions about what/how art means.
The show is not a reductive look at “gay” art but rather a look at how artists navigate around a complex set of codes that govern sexual expression, how they circumvent and/or use these codes to express their own silenced desires, how they’ve dealt with love and loss when AIDS ravaged the community, and how (more recently) artists complicate society’s imperative to identify as “gay/lesbian.”
The show is under serious attack from the right.  They demanded that a video by David Wojnarowicz be removed, and the museum caved with an hour.  I am outraged — almost 20 years after his death, Wojnarowicz is still being silenced! And now there is a good chance the entire show will be pulled.
Please help me in rallying behind the show.  We need an army of support.
What can you do?
Email NPG’s director, Martin E. Sullivan expressing your support for the show.  His email address is:
Forward this email to everyone and anyone who might care.
Write your congressmen/women.
Spread the word on facebook, twitter, etc.
In solidarity,

4 thoughts on “Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Controversy

  1. bob rocklin

    Laureen and Jenn

    While I support the right of free speech, you both are either anti-christian or total perverts. The figure of Christ on the cross is sacred to 77% of the US population yet you honestly believe that depicting him covered in live ants references gay identity and issues ? Talk about – way out there. If it was so important to have a religious icon in your exhibit – why not Mohammed – then again you wouldn’t touch that one would you.

    You are both sicko. The only real argument was the Christ depiction. I read not where that most people wanted the whole exhibit taken down – your right. On the flip side – even some of my friend who happen to be gay find a number of items in the exhibit to have nothing to do with being gay.

    God bless you both and may he keep you safe – you both need serious help.

    1. V. Whitehead

      hi Bob Rocklin,

      unfortunately for you art is not mandated by survey or created via committee; in art individuals are actually empowered/encouraged/allowed to express their own opinions, without prejudice. in a world that so many cry wolf over “big government” why make so much out of something so ancillary as art? why is it okay for the government to jump in here but not in other arenas? the NEA and NEH budgets are nowhere near as large as other areas of the government (such as the military)….

      it is interesting that you mention the 77% number, because a number that is statistically speaking a very close percentage of military personnel, thought that DADT should be repealed, and yet, a small percentage wants it to stay. do you think DADT should be repealed as well, given the majority said so?

      but more on topic, you should know that there are plenty of iconoclastic art with Mohammed being made these days, so you should not fret over what you perceive as being an unfair target. art also partakes on equality, in many different ways.

      as a college professor, and many would agree with me, I can tell you that the majority of my students would rather not have exams or papers or any reading material whatsoever. while academia and pedagogy may need some self evaluation (which happens constantly, believe me), the fact is that the majority of any given group is not always aware of broader consequences of their choices. numbers do not necessarily hold wisdom. and some people or even a few people, imagine that, may know more about something than you do. so why not rely on their expertise? I hope you do take the advice of your dentist when they recommend work on a cavity (though of course you may not have dental care, as universal health care represents the oppressive hand of government, and is another infringement on your personal space).

      so where does your way of thinking stops? according to your logic, if one day the religious percentages in this country change and Christianity (or people who believe the figure of Christ is sacred) is a minority, would it be okay then, on your views, to make art about it?

      the fact is that this issue is no different than other current issues, such as airport scans and pat downs. this is about freedom, and the removal of such freedom, by a small group of people. the minute you support the loss of freedom, you begin losing yours.

      most people will never make it to the Smithsonian exhibition. the ones that, thanks to this censorship, will now know about it and disagree with whatever they believe Hide/Seek stands for, can opt out and seek art that pleases them elsewhere. no one is forcing anyone to see this. that is another freedom we still have: to make choices.

  2. Karen Griffin

    This is a very simple matter of upholding our Constitution. Nothing else. It does not matter that 77% of anyone is any religion. This is a public venue and is supported in part by MY tax dollars. My tax dollars should not be used to circumvent the Constitution of the United States. That is exactly what happened when the video was taken from the show. Censorship does not equal constitutionally protected free speech.

    No one is sick here, Bob. We just believe in upholding our Constitution. Do you?

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