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Warhol Foundation issues ultimatum to Smithsonian over censored artwork

December 13, 2010 |  1:32 pm

Fire2 The controversy over the Smithsonian Institution's decision to remove a piece of artwork that was on display in the National Portrait Gallery took another turn Monday when the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts issued a letter vowing to stop funding future exhibitions at all Smithsonian institutions if the artwork is not restored immediately.

Joel Wachs, president of the Warhol Foundation, wrote a letter addressed to Smithsonian leaders -- including Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution -- in which he described the recent decision as "unconscionable" and contrary to "everything the Smithsonian Institution should stand for, and everything the Andy Warhol Foundation does stand for."

The Warhol Foundation is one of the many funders of "Hide/Seek," a privately funded show that is set to run at the National Portrait Gallery through Feb. 13.

In the letter, Wachs states that the board of directors of the Warhol Foundation has voted unanimously to demand that the Smithsonian restore the censored work immediately, or the Warhol Foundation will cease funding future exhibitions at the Smithsonian.

"I regret that you have put us in this position, but there is no other course we can take," wrote Wachs in the letter. "For the arts to flourish the arts must be free, and the decision to censor this important work is in stark opposition to our mission to defend freedom of expression wherever and whenever it is under attack."

The artwork in question is a 1987 video by the late David Wojnarowicz titled "A Fire in My Belly," which was being shown as part of the current "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" exhibition. The Smithsonian's decision to remove the work came after the Catholic League and a number of conservative politicians voiced objections to the video's depiction of Jesus Christ covered in ants.

In the days since the Smithsonian's decision, arts organizations around the country have publicly condemned the decision to remove the artwork. The Hammer Museum in L.A. and the New Museum in New York have announced their decision to show the Wojnarowicz video, in addition to the Transformer Gallery in Washington and other galleries around the country.

The Warhol Foundation, located in New York, is a key funder of art exhibitions and projects around the country. In the past few years, it has given more than $375,000 to fund several exhibitions at various Smithsonian institutions, according to Wachs' letter.

-- David Ng

Photo: A pedestrian watches David Wojnarowicz's "A Fire in My Belly" in a streetfront window at one of its new homes: the Transformer Gallery in Washington, D.C. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press



Controversy over video censored by Smithsonian continues to build steam

Art museum directors issue stern Smithsonian rebuke

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

Gay desire and American art


Comments () | Archives (29)

They're just ants for Christ's sake. People shouldn't get their panties all in a bunch because they feel offended. Censorship is what really offends me.

Would the Warhol Foundation have been equally offended if the artwork removed had been one that tried to make a statement that marriage was meant to be a union between one man and one woman? Unlikely--impossible, in fact, for that would have been hate speech.

You must remember that when liberals scream and yell about the freedom of speech, what they really mean is freedom of LIBERAL speech.

Anybody who is willing to reach into their own pockets and pay to view this work on private property is free to do so. The rest is merely moral posturing by those who feel the need to draw attention to themselves. The Warhol Foundation, in a sublime moment of irony, seems to be basking in IT'S 15 minutes of fame. We hope they enjoy it.

If this was Alah, people would be up in arms. They would take no less then its permanent removal. Why when its Jesus people are free to slander and humiliate and negotiate terms?

I strongly object to my tax dollars going to fund perverted, sick, and blasphemous images of our beloved Lord and Saviour. Happy Christmas to all.

Artists are people who can't get real jobs.

Isn't it ironic that a story about censorship is reported by the hypocrital LA times who censors, oops, I mean "moderates" for all you politically correct ninnys.

Power to freedom of expression.

About time someone stood up for art as free expression.

For all those who are offended by anything they don't like:
No one is making you go see it; stay home and watch TV if you don't want to be challenged.
Better yet, read the Constitution, out loud. Especially the First Amendment, which you seem to be unfamiliar with.

I don't consider myself a liberal or conservative, but I do wonder about the Warhol Foundation claiming, "For the arts to flourish the arts must be free, and the decision to censor this important work is in stark opposition to our mission to defend freedom of expression wherever and whenever it is under attack."

Yet when it comes to talk radio, liberals would like to censor hosts like Rush Limbaugh. The liberals claim that they defend freedom of speech, yet...they don't.

Would any liberals like to shed some light on this?

Who is worse? Artists who don't work, or Tbaggers and their buddies who cant stay sober or enjoy life? Both love to point fingers. Neither has a clue. God, Jehovah, Allah, Yeshua, Rama help the rest of us.

This is censorship, it is a privately funded exhibit, but hardly great art except to a small subgroup of Americans. Still, both sides should be able to have their own exhibits, and just stop commenting on the other by staying at home and watching football or home improvements. While contempt art is practically as much related to creative art as creation theory is to science, we must all tolerate one anothers opinions, as long as they are not claiming to be something they are not, which both sides are guilty of. Just like rightwingers claiming tax cuts during time of war is patriotic and caring about our troops. And libs wanting the government to fix everything, go donate and volunteer like many churches, synagogues, temples and mosques do. Sobbing very quietly.

Art collegia e fox"news" delenda est

"our beloved Lord and Saviour. Happy Christmas to all. Posted by: Jim Q. Citizen"

"Our"? Keep him for yourself, thank you very much.

(and good for the Warhol Foundation to stand up for their mission.)

Go Warhol Foundation!
As far as artists not having real jobs; it is a monumental task to try to express truth to knuckleheads and to do it usually for nothing.
Censorship is abhorrent.
Long Live Freedom of expression!

Amazing how republicans want limited government except when they want to impose their moral views on everyone else. Tough on crime but when they are busted they want leniency.

Bravo Joel Wachs!
Shame on the Smithsonian.
If such a piece-that no one ever complained about until a fundamentalist Catholic brought it up-is denied exposure, we are in dire straits indeed.
"A Fire in My Belly" is simply artwork.
It is patently not offensive.
And if it is offensive to that individual, tough luck.
Grow up.
Get over it.
Get a psychiatrist.
You are the problem; not the artwork.

Bravo to the Warhol Foundation, an institution with a spine, for their brave move and may the Foundation's gesture inspire other funders of the Smithsonian to do the same until the video is restored to Hide / Seek.

"Yet when it comes to talk radio, liberals would like to censor hosts like Rush Limbaugh. The liberals claim that they defend freedom of speech, yet...they don't.

Would any liberals like to shed some light on this?"

This makes no sense. Liberals would like to censor Rush (according to you, i personally feel that liberals enjoy extremists like rush, palin, beck because of their sheer entertainment value), so that means they have failed to defend freedom of speech?

Assumed intention equates action? Rush says something, liberals don't like it, you assume that they would like to censor him, so liberals are guilty of not defending freedom of speech?

Yeah right you're not a conservative.

This whole issue was raised by the "Catholic League" (which has no official connection with the Catholic Church), an organization headed up by William Donohue - who is a total whack job btw.

No one who didn't want to see this show would have seen it anyway. All this bs raised by GOP congress members about tax dollars being used for "homoerotic pornography" is a total joke. 90% of Catholic art is just as if not more homoerotic than anything in this show.

Don't want your tax dollars to go to stuff like this? Fine. Take mine. There are millions like me who think art and culture in our country should be nurtured. Someone is always going to be offended by something. Get over it. 5.8 million dollars to a national institution? Chump change.

If you think the piece is somehow anti-Christian, please explain how - because it could be interpreted in an opposite manner as well. Shallow knee jerk reactions by the "devout" doesn't change this fact.

Warhol sucks but religion sucks worse.

I don't understand the derogatory comment about artists.
If your dollar wasn't so weak you could seen Milan and Florence
rather than your ugly box-like cities.A real civilisation rather than your struggling dump.
See the Sistine chapel and great Basilicas.
The great museums of Europe. That's laziness?

Americans work hard alright. They work hard at destroying lives and countries around the world to international disgust. When people think of Renaissance Italy they sigh when they think of America they spit and curse.
Militarism is all America has to show others.
Pack of barbarians.

So what did Jesus say about killing since we have so many devout people?
What are the states doing to people in Afghansitan?
Maybe the gallery should show pictures and you can keep
talking about a Christian nation as more people are destroyed.

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