I Don’t Know If I’m Ready For This

So we are one month away from the handover of the House.  And the reality is starting to hit home.  Seems that the Smithsonian — those rabble-rousing anarchists — have decided to put up a special exhibition on portraits of homosexuals. 


There are some very famous artists represented in the show: Andy Warhol, Walt Whitman and Jasper Johns, among many others. But the work that so far has been the most controversial is a provocative video from 1987 by the late artist David Wojnarowicz called A Fire In My Belly.

Martin Sullivan, director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, says the artist created the piece as a response to the “agony and suffering” of his partner who at the time was dying of AIDS. Using “vivid colors, and some fairly grotesque scenes, it’s more a meditation on the fragility of the human flesh,” Sullivan says.

[ants on crucifix, standard-issue rant from Bill Donahue, yadda yadda yadda]

At least one critic has accused the Smithsonian of caving in to pressure from Catholics and from two Republican members of Congress. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia called the exhibition “an outrageous use of taxpayer money.” A spokesperson for incoming House Speaker John Boehner told The Hill newspaper that “Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January.”

[See what I did?  Orange Alert?  John Boehn… oh, you people are no fun.]

And thus we see the value of having Democrats in power.  With Dems in power, the GOP merely gets two-thirds of what it wants. The good news is that the truly wingnutty stuff is pushed to the side.  But when the GOP gets the keys?

Point: the first two weeks of January are going to see toxic levels of crazy.  Hang onto your asses, everyone!  (Just not too suggestively, thanks.)


It must be getting late; I couldn’t figure out why ants on a crucifix would be included in a homo portrait exhibition.

TJ: So the teevee just told me that Kathy Bates will star in a legal dramedy series by David E. Kelly starting in January. I’m torn. On one hand, KathyBates! On the other hand, I feel too old and cynical about the law to appreciate DEK programs anymore.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: Apparently the artist was pissed that his partner was dying of AIDS in the 1980s. Ants on a crucifix in that context is, all at once, understandable, juvenile, reductionist, shocking for the sake of being shocking, painting with a really really broad brush, and about twenty other adjectives — several of which are not at all supportive.

Yeah, yeah, I get it. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart were not exactly the bestest friends gays ever had. Ants on a crucifix doesn’t exactly thrill me to death, to be honest.

@chicago bureau: Remember the Serrano “Blood and Semen” image link I posted a while back, the one Metallica used for “Load”?

Metallica, “Bleeding Me”


“I’m digging my way to something better.”

Awesome awesome awesome metal tune.

“I take the leech that’s bleeding me . . .”

@chicago bureau: Now now, we can’t tell without seeing it in the flesh. People said the same about Van Goch, Rothko, Pollack et al. It’s the easiest thing in the world to poke fun at a work of art. Even Republicans can do it. And whenever they do they are attacking culture, literacy, civilized discourse, internationalism, homos, elites, etc. Let’s not forget that they used a Mapplethorpe exhibit in Cincinnati to launch a full-scale assault on federal arts support led by Jesse Helms (I just need to go and puke::: and I’m back). Which assault in turn showed them how to attack the functions of our government and gave us Starve the Beast. No one likes new stuff, of course, that goes without saying. Here in the US the Impressionists are considered to be contemporary art. However, this is one of the few fields in which we still lead the world; where we are still considered relevant. The infamous Piss Christ was quite beautiful though a touch high-concepty for my taste. But then, I’m an art for arts sake kinda guy. I don’t like things to mean shit and stuff.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: David Kelly has the most extraordinarily beautiful teeth ever seen in a human head. They are bewilderingly beautiful. Rooms fall silent when they appear. His teeth should have their own show. They could do much for the Tuesday night line-up.

Smithsonian caved, but the gallery that picked it up is about a mile from my apartment, so I’ll probably check it out. Will let y’all know how it is.

@Benedick: Sam Wagstaff doesn’t get the credit he is due.

@chicago bureau: Does anyone really get shocked and outraged over that kind of thing anymore? Pissing on Hey Zeus is so done. It seems to be more of a desperate cry for attention, than a genuine statement about Christianity. Like Courtney Love yelling obscenities and tweeting pictures of her cooch.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: Yes, I think they do. This kind of ‘outrage’ crap is obviously political but yes I think people still get shocked. What I think is particularly funny is when a New Yorker, for instance, gets shocked by something but cannot understand that’s what’s happened on account of being a New Yorker and therefore being by definition unshockable. I’m thinking of something I was once in that I thought dazzling but which appalled New Yorkers because of its casual cruelty. I was shocked by Inglorious Basterds, for example, and overreacted quite viscerally to it. Many reacted in a similar manner to American Psycho which I think is still the best account of Reagan’s America that I know. I think we try not to be shocked by sexual matters any more because that is one way we have learned to define ourselves socially just as we’ve learned to deplore those who have fallen behind. Or turned orange. And of course, the people who might have been shocked by the video piece wouldn’t dream of ever going to a gallery. Those like myself who received the whole Catholic priest scandal with a certain smug self-satisfaction can find ourselves shocked by straightforward accounts of truly selfless behavior among the clergy. And so on. So yes I think we still get shocked. I’m shocked that a serious cultural institution can take ‘video art’ seriously. I place it just slightly below ‘performance art’. But that’s my problem. I remember seeing Sunday in the Park With George a piece, in my estimation, of great philistinism. In its second act the writers mock an artist working in light in exactly the same terms in which Seurat was mocked by the bourgeois of his time. But then I’d recently seen a light ‘installation’ (a word guaranteed to make my hackles rise) at the Whitney of great mystery and beauty which had literally opened my eyes. So the goalposts may move but shock remains. Indeed, our stand-ups (who won’t ever STFU it seems) trade in shock. They go right to the edge to show us where the boundaries are so we know where they are and don’t go past them. Priests and pastors do the same thing. Which is why I reckon that stand-up is essential reactionary in nature and should probably be banned.

Having now bored myself beyond the limits of human endurance I will take my ass to the park.

I thank you for your time. You can never get it back.

I think one of the interesting things about this is how little we have heard about it. the only thing I have seen is one little bit of outrage on the CNS site.
where are the Helmses wailing about cutting government funding?

doesnt really seem to the that Ms Cantor and the Tan Mans faux spurt of outrage honor the fine republican tradition of such things.

@Capt Howdy: They already did. Arts funding was shredded. The tiny amount that’s left will go as soon as the Republicans resume power.

I was reading a ton about this story yesterday – probably why I was in such a bad mood. Awesome to censor a piece like this just in time for World AIDS Day!

Apparently the artist used ants often in his work because he thought they were analogous to human society and used the imagery of them crawling on things to critique various institutions (government, the military and by the crucifix organized religion). So it wasn’t an assault on Christians per se. Although his partner was dying of AIDS, and some have viewed the image of Christ as a symbol of the suffering of the weak and disaffected, which again in this context doesn’t seem particularly shocking.

But thank goodness we have Cantor to stand up for the poor Christians.

And seriously, isn’t that fat fuck from the Catholic League just some dude in his basement with a computer, denying pedophilia in the church? How anything he says creates an outrage is beyond me…

I can only hope that the latest crazies elected to Congress are the tipping point, then the GOP will be utterly destroyed.

From co-curator:

Dear Colleagues,
The Christian Right has attacked my Hide/Seek exhibition and fearing that the whole show would be closed by Republicans in Congress, the Director tossed the fascists a bone and removed a David Wojnarowicz video. See http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/11/30/ant-covered-jesus-exhibition-sparks-call-congressional-probe/. We are effectively back in the dark days of 1989 when the Mapplethorpe exhibition was censored. This a dangerous precedent and flies in the face of everything the exhibition was structured to overturn. Once the newly ascendant right tastes blood in the water—and now thanks to the Smithsonian they have—we will all be targets. Please write to express your displeasure to Wayne Clough, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, at Cloughw@si.edu, to Richard Kurin the undersecretary for the arts and humanities at KurinR@si.edu and to the director of the museum Martin Sullivan at sullivanm@si.edu.
As the judge who ruled against Rudy Giuliani in the Brooklyn Museum case put it:
“There is no federal constitutional issue more grave than the effort by government officials to censor works of expression and to threaten the vitality of a major cultural institution as punishment for failing to abide by governmental demands for orthodoxy.”

Jonathan D. Katz
Director, Visual Studies Doctoral Program
University at Buffalo

Not the first time that the Smithsonian has capitulated to political pressure.

@Benedick: Thanks for this comment of yours. I hope I live up to my responsibilities to it and express my displeasure to Clough, Kurin, and Sullivan. I know it won’t happen today (previous appts), but tomorrow is free.

@lynnlightfoot: I got it from PSP who has lots more about it.


And seriously, isn’t that fat fuck from the Catholic League just some dude in his basement with a computer, denying pedophilia in the church?

Better watch out – he might send his ninjas after you! ;)

@al2o3cr: what, Catholic ninjas? They kick your ass and feel ashamed afterwards, I guess.

@al2o3cr: @chicago bureau: I have it on good authority that ninja would never align themselves with the Holy See. Ninja don’t go for cheap.

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