« Previous | Culture Monster Home | Next »

L.A. gallery to show controversial video art censored by Smithsonian

December 7, 2010 | 10:12 am


A gallery in downtown Los Angeles is planning to show a video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz that is currently at the center of a censorship debate at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

The CB1 Gallery said in an e-mail this week that it will display Wojnarowicz's "A Fire in My Belly" (1987) during Thursday's downtown art walk and continuing through the weekend. The gallery, located near the corner of Spring and Fifth streets in downtown's Gallery Row, is planning to exhibit the full 13-minute video in the entranceway to its West Gallery space so that the artwork will be available for the public to see.

Last week, "A Fire in My Belly" received national attention when the Smithsonian Institution decided to remove the work from the National Portrait Gallery, where it was being shown as part of the exhibition "Hide/Seek." The Smithsonian's decision came after criticism from several conservative members of Congress and the Catholic League. They voiced objections to the video's depiction of an image of Jesus Christ covered in ants.

"Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" is an exhibition devoted to exploring gay identity in art and is set to run through Feb. 13 at the National Portrait Gallery.

Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote this week that the political attacks on Wojnarowicz's video amount to a form of anti-gay bullying that has been spurred on by groups including the right-wing Cyber News Service, the Family Research Council and other organizations.

Recently, the Transformer Gallery in Washington started showing the Wojnarowicz video in its window-front display. The gallery also organized a public demonstration against the Smithsonian's decision to censor the artwork.

The CB1 Gallery is open Wednesdays through Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. The gallery is open until 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays.

-- David Ng

Photo: "A Fire in My Belly," on view at the Transformer Gallery in Washington. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press


Art museum directors issue stern Smithsonian rebuke

Is the censored Wojnarowicz video really 'anti-Christian'?

Gay desire and American art


Comments () | Archives (29)

A privately owned gallery showing gay art!? OMG!!! Oh wait... I'm not paying for it right? Okay... whatever...

Is this where and when smug, pro-censorship and, above all, righteous "art policers" start making a vital connection: the connection that an attempt at censoring art they don't like (read: understand or are open to understanding) blows up in their collective faces and the art gets shown and discussed EVERYWHERE ? You're going to make an ugly face at this but it's your concentrated attention on this work that underscores why it's so important. It's why curators want this work shown in their exhibitions and it's why it's brought out such dynamic discourse. And really, it's revived popularity is owed largely to you.

Suddenly, art policers, the new audience for "A Fire In My Belly" is now exponentially greater than if you'd just let the video play in a single exhibition about the gays in a single gallery in DC. If anything, your attempt to "protect" us, protect your God, protect kids, protect what gets tax funded, protect yourself from recognizing AIDS victims, et al from this artwork -- and your rabid attempt at censoring it -- has put "A Fire In My Belly" in the mouths and minds of people around the world. All thanks to you.

David W is laughing at you from the grave. 25+ years later (you can read the + any way you like), his work still continues to confuse you and rile you up -- and you've only lauded him with loads of worldwide art press, renewed critical discourse surrounding his life /work and you've helped move and secure his name into the art canon.

Well played, all around.

Why can't one of Los Angeles's MUSEUMS step up and show the video?

How daring!

Now maybe they'll do Mohammed covered in...

what's that? No way in hell?

Ah yes, that would actually be controversial. Poking 'those dirty Xians' is not controversial at all and is guaranteed to not offend the delicate leftist sensibilities of anyone likely to go to this thing.

Hey "brave" artists: why don't you create a video in which Muhammed is covered in ants? How about the image of Muhammad smeared in dung or the star and crescent in a vat of urine?

When are you going to produce the Islamic "Dogma" of "Last Temptation of Christ?"

How about you champions of tolerance, artistic expression, gay rights and freedom speak out about Muslims rioting and murdering over cartoons and issuing fatwas against authors who "insult" Islam?

It's easier and safer attacking Christians, Catholics and conservatives. It also gets you attention, while allowing you to play victim.

museums are discriminatory by nature. they rarely serve the needs of minorities. why is it a surprise that the smithsonian did this. it's what they do on a regular basis. exhibitions are biased stories presented by museum directors and curators. they're not about the full expression of an artist. people need to start recognizing museums for what they are. and galleries shouldn't use this as an opportunity to promote themselves.

They must like broken windows.

Workspace gallery in Lincoln Heights will also screen Wojnarowicz film on Sunday evening.

To those who insist on forcing inane comparisons such as "why don't these blaspheming liberal hypocrites show Mohammed covered in ants/feces/urine?" I pose this question: How many of the artists under discussion, who have unflatteringly potrayed Judeo-Christian symbols or traditions, were not raised in those cultures? I'm guessing that number hovers around zero.

Rather, it seems to me that Western artists - and that's largely who we're talking about, in terms of who gets public grants and who gets shown in major venues in the US - don't use Islamic iconology in their critiques because
a) they don't know much about Islam and therefore aren't qualified to criticize it, and
b) crucifixes and portraits of Mary are more recognizable, powerful symbols for the artists and their intended audiences (ie, other Westerners), than imagery from other religious cultures.

Why do some of you jump to conclusions about what you'd actually be seeing in its context? I'm a Christian and I have no idea what Jesus covered in ants has to do with being gay, but I'd certainly be willing to see what the artist was trying to convey.

If its that offensive to you, don't go seek it out! Why do you read an article about something that apparently infuriates you and then bother to write your comments about it?

Jesus said "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out" - He didn't say go rant & rail against whatever it is or try and squish it out of existence. You are responsible for your OWN behavior, no one else's. You are responsible for what YOU ingest and that offends YOU or is a stumbling block for YOU.

I tend to agree with Dino Dinco.

The greater point is about who decides what art is and how it is supposed to be seen. The "art police" call this work "hate speech." Which shows that they know nothing about the artist or the work itself.

What we should be asking is why on earth our Congressional corporate dolts are in a position to enforce censorship of the NEA to begin with, and who exactly does this behavior benefit and why?

Who cares? As long as it's not done on the taxpayer dime, knock yourself out.

Here is 20 mins of the video:

No institution or gallery is obligated to exhibit any piece of art. Censorship is not the issue here. A private gallery is an appropriate place for the Wojnarwicz piece.
Would Christopher Knight deem racist or anti-gay art appropriate for the Smithsonian? Of course not.

Thank you Michelle Weger - you are right on. And thanks D. Kaye for demonstrating what it means to an open, intelligent ADULT.
And a big DUH to LibertyMark - the show at the Smithsonian was PRIVATELY funded.

If they are really brave let them host an ant covered Muhammad! Or maybe the Piss Muhammad. Or how about a portrait of Mohammad made out of elephant dung.

Stop with the Muhammad nonsense. for one thing, he would be pissed too as Yeshua was considered the greatest prophet til Muhammad. But claimed Yeshua was never crucified and ascended straight up to heaven, as he did 600 years later. Yeshua(Jesus, Isa in the Quran) is highly respected in Islam, but view the apostles as having corrupted and changed his teachings, as there can only be one God, not three.

However, Christianity is dominant here, not Islam, so its a mute point. The video has every right to make its point, we are NOT a Christian nation like Israel is Jewish and Saudi Arabia Islamic. We have seperation of church and state and free expression is allowed, no matter how tacky or insulting. you have the right to protest also. But not censor. Protesting almost always makes the focus mmore popular, so this is self defeating, but does make both wingnuts feel better about themselves, while us in the middle gget more and more disillusioned with art and politics.

Thanks guys, you are doing so much to make our nation better, sheeesh. Extremism breeds contempt and fracturing of the whole. You guys are interested in neither bettering our nation or its people, you both just wanna feel better about yourselves. Get your therapy elsewhere, please!!!

Why does anyone care about the image of any ideology, they're nothing but an artists rendering of an idea.

Good for the LA gallery and the Transformer Gallery! Hopefully the Smithsonian will reverse their action after the fire dies down, though seeing as how this type of art has been done (Piss Christ, etc.), I'm not really sure what the issue of displaying it even is.

Their loss.

To those who insist on forcing inane comparisons such as "why don't these blaspheming liberal hypocrites show Mohammed covered in ants/feces/urine?"


Its a rhetorical question. The obvious answer is rank cowardice and fear of being stabbed in the back like Theo Van Gogh. Far better to go after the nice safe utterly boring skewering of 'those dirty xians.' No one will try to stab you, but hopefully some naive pastor or congressman will say something and you'll be the toast of the christian hating art world.

We currently have a religion that doesn't want gays to get married, and a religion that doesn't want gays to be alive. Which does the artist set bravely stand up to?

The safe one. That's fine, but don't tell me how brave you are when you aren't actually risking a single thing.

I am tempted to take a tab of postit notes, draw a smiley face and under it, write 'Mohammed' and stick it on the wall next to some of these 'controversial' anti christian displays. At least then something actually controversial would be on display in a museum somewhere.

1 2 | ยป


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.