The National Portrait Gallery has been one of my favorite museums to visit during my time living in Washington. The hours are convenient (it’s open til 7 most days), and it has that amazing painting of Walt Whitman (maybe it’s more a portrait of Walt Whitman’s beard….in any case, I love it). I’ve also felt like, of all the national/public museums here, the NPG has one of the better contemporary programs going (the Portraiture Now series, Self-portraiture in the 20th Century, the Outwin Boochever competition, Ding Ren’s recent performances, etc. etc.).
So, of course, I feel sad about the Smithsonian administration’s caving in to right-wing attacks on its display of David Wojnarowicz’s video work A Fire in My Belly. If you read or listen to the Catholic League’s remarks on the subject, it seems pretty obvious that the leader of that group is grasping at straws, making outrageous statements in order to garner recognition for himself and his group as much as anything else. Honestly, the whole furor seems like it might have been cooked up to sell newspapers, since the Catholic League’s leader wasn’t aware of the artwork until asked to comment on it by the New York Post. Yet it seems that, with the hopping-on-the-bandwagon of Reps. Boehner and Cantor, we are all set to re-wage the culture wars of the 80s and 90s anyway. So much for contemporary programming.
Oh well. Nothing like being a punching bag for the advancement of an unrelated and hostile political agenda. I’m sure this outrage will garner The Right lots of votes in the art-hating segments of our citizenry.
I read in the Washington Post this morning that the NPG is going to replace this artwork in their video kiosk with a selection from Pink Narcissus, a 1971 film about the fantasies of a young male prostitute, directed by James Bidgood. So that’s okay then. Goes along with the Pope’s recent okay of prostitutes’ condom usage. I hope we can all be happy about that.