Bravo to Joel Wachs and the Warhol Foundation for the transparent and courageous stand against censorship, while promoting visual art.
In a letter to Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, President Wachs writes, “For the arts to flourish the arts must be free, and the decision to censor this important work is in stark opposition to our mission to defend freedom of expression wherever and whenever it is under attack.”
This is especially praiseworthy as Andy Warhol is one of the USA’s great religious artists and the Smithsonian’s controversy is at heart about freedom of speech and religion.
Last week, House GOP Leader John Boehner demanded the Smithsonian remove an art video by David Wojnarowicz’s, A Fire in My Belly , which was a part of Hide/SEEK Difference and Desire in American Culture, a curated exhibit that is currently on show at the National Portrait Gallery. The video includes an image of the crucified Christ with ants crawling on his body. It is reported that John Boehner stated the video’s inclusion was an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.
Thanks to the UK’s Guardian posting a video, I have seen “Fire in My Belly”, which reveals the agony of marginalization and loss due to AIDS. The ants crawling on a small ceramic of a crucified Jesus seems to me to be a cry to the church to resurrect and come to the help of these people who in the early 1990’s were facing an agonizing and sure death.
Further, I know that it is quite possible, even likely that ants, and other insects such as flies crawled on the bodies of people who were crucified. Although the ants are not mentioned in the Bible, scripture basically leaves out the obvious or what people took for granted.
What John. Boehner missed is that what may be offensive to him, may actually be promoting the very Christian values he holds dear. Ironically, this video would not be allowed to be shown in most totalitarian or fascist regimes in the world, as it questions their (and our) response to AIDS. The last time I read the Bible it was clear that caring for and healing the sick is strongly promoted, even required. [By the way, the last time I read the Bible was yesterday, and I also the letters from another scripture for my strokes in a painting.]
Few artists are ever as controversial as actual religious artists in their own lifetimes. When Warhol’s Last Supper works were shown they were very controversial as people stared at the Dove soap and GE logos, commercial symbols representing the sacred. Yet the artist’s vision prevailed as we saw how society had commercialized the sacred, how materialism had (and does) impact the basic Judeo-Christian teachings, and then, as Warhol was a genius, how somehow The Divine manages to be with us through all of that.
In a free country artists need to be able to be controversial, to open a dialogue, to encourage people to see in new ways.
This means artists have to have the right to be somewhat offensive to people as the radically new is always offensive and experimentation or pointing out problem’s in one’s society can definitely annoy the establishment.
To deny artists this freedom of speech (or paintbrush, chisel and video camera) creates the kind of art we have seen from facist or totalitarian regimes that is uninspired, insipid but excellently crafted propaganda. Is this the kind of art we want for the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Yet, threatened with a loss of funding, the Smithsonian capitulated and removed the video from the already opened show.
We all vote with our dollars (money is another subject painted by Warhol). As every lobbyist knows, money has more clout on a daily basis than the degree of power the minority of Americans who vote exercise once a year.
We vote with our dollars for businesses, including automobile manufacturers, banks, oil companies, insurance companies, credit cards, etc., When we stop voting for a company they go out of business or ask for a bail out or aid.
We also vote for the museums we support with our admissions dollars and donations, and this is especially shown by the popularity of a museum’s shows.
Over the years, the Warhol Foundation has has helped advance the stature and worth of Andy Warhol’s art (and their holdings) while becoming widely respected for its support of visual art, providing funds to artists, art writers and critics, curators, and museums, etc.
Continuing to successfully promote Warhol’s legacy and visual art, the Warhol Foundation has now publicly contacted the Smithsonian, advising warning the Smithsonian that it will not support this censorship or a museum that allows it.
Somewhere, I believe Andy Warhol is smiling.
Joel Wach’s letter to Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution is reproduced here courtesy of the Warhol Foundation.
December 13, 2010
Mr. Wayne Clough
SIB Office of the Secretary
PO Box 37012
Washington , D.C. 20013-7012
Dear Mr. Clough,
The Warhol Foundation is proud to have been a lead supporter of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, but we strongly condemn the decision to remove David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition. Such blatant censorship is unconscionable. It is inimical to everything the Smithsonian Institution should stand for, and everything the Andy Warhol Foundation does stand for.
Although we have enjoyed our growing relationship during the past three years, and have given more than $375,000 to fund several exhibitions at various Smithsonian institutions, we cannot stand by and watch the Smithsonian bow to the demands of bigots who have attacked the exhibition out of ignorance, hatred and fear.
Last week the Foundation published a statement on its website www.warholfoundation.org , condemning the National Portrait Gallery’s removal of the work and on Friday our Board of Directors met to discuss the long-term implications of the Museum’s behavior on the Foundation’s relationship with the Smithsonian Institution. After careful consideration, the Board voted unanimously to demand that you restore the censored work immediately, or the Warhol Foundation will cease funding future exhibitions at all Smithsonian institutions.
I regret that you have put us in this position, but there is no other course we can take. For the arts to flourish the arts must be free, and the decision to censor this important work is in stark opposition to our mission to defend freedom of expression wherever and whenever it is under attack.
cc: Ms. Patricia Stonesifer, Smithsonian Chairwoman of the Board
Directors of Smithsonian Institution museums
Board Chairs of Smithsonian Institution museums
VOTE 2010 by Judy Rey Wasserman
Strokes of the dollar bill and Washington’s portrait are the original Biblical letters of Exodus 20- the Ten Commandments, unless otherwise obviously English letters of numbers. Original digital print.
Note: Andy Warhol’s later and last works include what is called his “ Last Supper ” works, which are Pop and also religious art. These and other Warhol works greatly influenced Judy Rey Wasserman, the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory, including the branch known as UnGraven Image. SEE Andy Warhol is a Grandfather to Post Conceptual Art
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Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art at ungravenimage.com.
Check out the Fine Art Limited Edition prints, decorative prints, books, and printables that are currently available to you through Judy Rey’s Art of Seeing The Divine Shop. You don’t have to buy to avail yourself of the art and inspiration available there. However, if you select to collect investment quality archival art, or decorate your home with images created with strokes that are original letters from Bible texts, or buy a gift for someone special, there is a secure shopping cart that accepts most credit cards so your purchase is easy to accomplish. https://artofseeingthedivine.com.