Globe visual arts critic Sebastian Smee knocks the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. today for removing a video from a gay-themed exhibition that features footage of ants crawling on a small painted crucifix that lies on the ground. In removing the video, "Fire in my Belly" by David Wojnarowicz, the museum was responding to pressure from the Catholic League, some right-wing commentators, and members of Congress, who threatened the Smithsonian’s funding.
Smee calls the move "foolish," and praises museums around the country, including Boston's ICA, which have responded to the decision by displaying Wojnarowicz’s work in their galleries. "They have made it easier for us to make up our own minds," Smee writes.
In that spirit, it's worth pointing out that you don't even have to brave the cold to get to the ICA and see the video. It's available here on YouTube. By this point, this should be a fairly obvious warning: The video contains potentially offensive content. If you so choose, watch it and vote in the poll below. Feel free to explain your vote in the comments section, too.
Those of you looking for more context should check out Smee's review. The Cliff's Notes version:
The video, which Wojnarowicz made in 1986-87, is "in part a response to the AIDS-related death of his friend and colleague, Peter Hujar." Smee says it "taps into a long Western tradition of finding everyday life in Mexico inherently surreal and bracingly cognizant of death (the Day of the Dead celebrations are connected, let’s not forget, with Mexican Catholicism). Its conflicting images are not supposed to suggest any one thing, any one idea."
In terms of the controversy, Smee offers this take:
Some people clearly find the notion of ants crawling on a crucifix sacrilegious. But why should it be inherently offensive? When it comes to representations of Christ’s death, the Christian tradition is full of base and wretched imagery, as anyone who has seen Matthias Grünewald’s shudderingly graphic “Isenheim Altarpiece’’ in Colmar, France, or for that matter Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion,’’ would know.
Decide for yourself , vote in the poll above, and comment in the section below.