Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Ten key points about the Smithsonian/NPG controversy

Pin It

1.) The Catholic League, a right-wing group with a long anti-gay record, claimed in a vile statement that David Wojnarowicz intended to attack Christians when he made A Fire in My Belly. This charge is factually inaccurate. The National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution are organizations that exist to conduct research and scholarship as well as to educate the public. When the Smithsonian and the NPG withdrew Wojnarowicz’s piece in response to the Catholic League’s fictitious, ahistorical claim, they betrayed their mission. It is the biggest error of G. Wayne Clough’s until-now smooth tenure as Smithsonian secretary.

2.) The Smithsonian needs to make clear that historians write and present history in our national museums, not activists.

3.) As of last night, G. Wayne Clough had yet to issue a public statement or answer questions about any part of this issue. That’s disappointing. Does that mean that the Castle is going wobbly?

4.) This is nothing short of Mapplethorpe redux, the manufacturing of controversy by a tiny, bigotry-motivated group of conservatives. Have cultural leaders learned from the Mapplethorpian past? We’ll see.

5.) Want to know just how manufactured and anti-historical this silliness is? As LA Times art critic Christopher Knight tweeted last night, the reporter who kicked up this tempest also complained that the Smithsonian failed to present creationism in its museums.

6.) This would be an appropriate statement of support from the National Portrait Gallery’s neighbors: The Corcoran Gallery of Art and/or the National Gallery of Art should immediately and publicly offer to install Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly and to hold public lectures about Wojnarowicz and his work. (And by immediately, I mean the NGA should get a lecture on the calendar for Saturday. I bet Dan Cameron, the curator of a Wojnarowicz retrospective at the New Museum for Contemporary Art, would drop everything to be there.)

7.) In a related story, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Association of Art Museum Curators, the American Association of Museums and the College Art Association (and probably several other leadership groups I’m leaving out) should immediately issue statements of support for the exhibition, the scholarship associated with the exhibition and for the two historians who curated it. They should also strongly condemn the NPG and the Smithsonian for removing A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition.

8.) A key part of these events is the refusal of religious conservatives to acknowledge that gays and lesbians are Americans in full, as worthy of being studied and contextualized by historians as Catholics or Montanans. The religious right wants nothing less than for gays and lesbians to be made as invisible as possible, to be hidden or removed from our shared national history.

9.) Why is the right-wing creating this story now? Last night the Pentagon released a report saying that the only reason for the military to maintain the so-called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is bigotry, and that ending bigotry is not a threat to America’s military or to our national security. The right is losing the DADT battle – and is happy to have this story pop up to distract its core, anti-gay base from this latest DADT setback.

10.) Who in the Congressional Arts Caucus or in the Congressional Humanities Caucucs will stand up and issue a statement in support of scholarship about the arts and humanities?

Bonus, via a MAN commenter: Have the two House Republicans who have erupted into Pavolovian hysterics seen the exhibition?

Pin It


  1. greg.org says:

    amen, brother.

  2. Eric says:

    This should be required reading for all museum & gallery directors. …What disappointing “leadership” from the NPG and Smithsonian.

  3. […] has been widely criticized, including by Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik and by, well, me. « Ten key points about the Smithsonian/NPG controversy Blog Home Breaking news, […]

  4. Alexis says:

    Did they see the exhibition? Ha, when is the last time they even went to a museum?!

  5. Sara says:

    Well said MAN.

  6. Becky says:

    Very disappointing news. Gays need to be positively represented in history and in museums, even The Smithsonian. This has been a very narrow decision.

  7. Rocky Lore says:

    Imagine what would have happened had the artist used Islam in his exhibit with ants crawling on a Koran.

  8. […] ArtInfo, Tyler Green brings up “Ten Key Points About the Smithsonian/NPG Controversy, and I think the most relevant point is as follows: “A key part of these events is the […]

  9. Valerie says:

    It is appalling that the NPG folded so swiftly before a right-wing conservative attempt to relaunch the culture wars. I absolutely agree with point 7; professional museum organizations need to respond – quickly – to condemn and disassociate themselves from this utter lack of support for art and free speech.

    I’m almost ashamed to admit that I was an intern at this museum. What was Director Martin Sullivan thinking?

  10. […] Unfortunately neither museum is in Washington, where the local institutions are being led by feisty upstart Transformer Gallery, which was the first American institution to install A Fire in My Belly in response to the Smithsonian fiasco. Is it too much to hope that the National Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn or Corcoran would mimic the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s installation, at least? (Alternately, see No. 6 here.) […]

  11. […] Green writes in ArtInfo about the larger issues this censorship presents to the American LGBT experience: A key part of […]

Add a Comment