365 Days of Art: November 30 – National Portrait Gallery Censors AIDS Film
November 30, 2010
The National Portrait Gallery removes a film from the first-ever gay portraiture exhibition, Hide/Seek, after receiving complaints from a Catholic organization and members of Congress.
The video, created by David Wojnarowicz, features footage of ants crawling on a crucifix, and is made in the heyday of the AIDS epidemic. It is a tortured response to the disease and to governmental inaction in the mid-1980s. Wojnarowicz himself dies of AIDS in 1987.
The Catholic League calls the video “hate speech”, and John Boehner’s office calls it a misuse of taxpayer money. The video is quickly removed with little debate. In response to heavy criticism that the museum has acted too hastily, or not pushed back because of the gay subject matter, the museum’s director Martin E. Sullivan says:
The decision wasn’t caving in,” said Martin E. Sullivan, the museum’s director. “We don’t want to shy away from anything that is controversial, but we want to focus on the museum’s and this show’s strengths.”
Many museums and galleries around the country screen the video in protest.