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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



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Comments () | Archives (29)

Dan Droff, do you know the difference between a job and a career? Let me explain it to you. A job requires very little brain power, a career requires brains. For those of us who have careers we understand. You are just stupid

not surprising that the Warhol Foundation did something so "radical." They have openly supported gayness in the arts for a long time and this case is no different. No matter what they foundation truly believes they will support the gays for fear of backlash.

I will agree with this as long as we are free to express Nazi and other themes that are equally offensive to other religions.

Very little "art" today has any true artistic merit. Most of it is self-indulgent drivel. The Emperor has no clothes and this pertains to Andy Warhol as well.

Deasconfias- You really have to take a breath of fresh air. You seem desperate

Joel Wachs, president of the warhol foundation is banging on about free speech? thats really funny. Isnt he the man who spent $7 million dollars of Warhol's monies hiring david boies to quash any debate regarding the artists work? Clearly Joel Wachs is only trying to jump on a bandwagon to try to drag his scandal foundation out of the gutter.
the former tax attorney is 75 years old, time for someone else to be running this arts foundation. at ten years on, he has been there long enough.

The Community has inalienable rights to 'The People's' institutions that have expressed the eternal valus pre-mayflower/Jamestown. Any insults / threats on the basis of mammon-serving are answered by the Community LOVE ad infinitum. The community that insults its Valu system, and doesn't respect the potential energy of Love in a multiplier effect, "as a house divided against itself " may succumb / cease resistance to vague and arbitrary forces without HIStorical input.

Any one that speaks of insults ; being devoid of respect , shouldn't " offend "
the damaged/victim/ third-party. That proposes that BULLY ing through civilization is approved --and not cerebral censorshipIS NOT. Without the ' impress of Mind' : Amoral ; Anything Goes ; anarchy/chaos follow. It is not fatalism, it's hedonism & nihilism to lead the young and impressionable
(Young-At-Heart) without MORALS --read ' VALUs in Community Nurture'
without Origin LOVE , self-destruction supplants SALV human condition
(Mt 7 ; 2 gates ; Rom 1 ; Rom 5 ; Galns 5 ) [Deut 6; Mt22;Mk12;Lu8 ]


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