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GOP Attacks the Smithsonian

GOP Attacks the Smithsonian


It's 1989 all over again in Washington, D.C., as House speaker designate John Boehner of Ohio and incoming House majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia have called for the dismantling of a Smithsonian exhibit focused on same-sex attraction.

The congressmen's efforts are already paying off, as officials at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, where the exhibit--"Hide/Seek"--is being shown, have agreed to remove one controversial piece, a video by David Wojnarowicz, The Washington Post reports. The gallery was exhibiting a four-minute video by Wojnarowicz, a gay artist who died from AIDS in 1992, that includes 11 seconds of a crucifix with ants crawling on it. (Watch an excerpt of Wojnarowicz's piece here.)

Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith told the conservative website that "Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves [in]." Smith later added that his boss wants the exhibit "canceled."

Cantor said he wants the exhibit "pulled" and that it's "an outrageous use of taxpayer money."

Boehner's and Cantor's censorship calls are similar to a controversy that kicked off in 1989, when then-Senator Al D'Amato of New York ripped up a catalog containing Andre Serrano's "Piss Christ" on the Senate floor. The ensuing political and legal wrangling resulted in the National Endowment for the Arts cutting off funding for individual artists.

In addition to Wojnarowicz's video, "Hide/Seek" includes works by Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, George Belows, Walker Evans, Marcel Duchamp, Berenice Abbot, Grant Wood, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Georgia O'Keeffe, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, David Hockney, Agnes Martin, Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, among others.

In a commentary posted Tuesday night on, Blake Gopnik explains: "This fuss is about the larger topic of the show: Gay love, and images of it. The headline that ran on [the Post's] coverage of the matter on the right-wing Web site mentioned the crucifix--but as only one item in a list of the exhibition's 'shockers' that included 'naked brothers kissing, genitalia and Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breast.' (Through a bra, one might note, in an image that's less shocking than many moves by Lady Gaga.)"

Gopnik wrote a compelling review of "Hide/Seek" when it opened in early November, and The Washington Post included a photo gallery of several of the pieces along with his review.

In response to Boehner's and Cantor's demands, a spokesperson for the Smithsonian explained that no federal funding is used to pay for exhibits--only infrastructure, curating of works, and staff, The Hill reports.

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