Museum of Censored Art Pops Up in D.C.

Controversial video gets temporary home near Portrait Gallery

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Smithsonian pulled a video from the "Hide/Seek" exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. Now that video is back -- literally steps away from the Gallery. (Published Thursday, Jan 13, 2011)

    A piece removed from the National Portrait Gallery's "Hide/Seek" exhibit continues to be a point of controversy.

    After pressure from outside groups, the Smithsonian pulled a video from the exhibit, outraging members of the art community. Now, that video is back, literally steps away from the gallery.

    The Museum of Censored Art -- a mobile office trailer bearing the sign “Showing the art the Smithsonian won't” -- is situated just outside the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.

    "The film is here," said Mike Blasenstein, one of the protesters behind the museum. "People might have to walk a few more feet to see it, but they can see the original exhibit as it played for a month in the National Portrait Gallery with zero complaints from the public."

    The film is an excerpt from David Wojnarowicz's “Fire in My Belly." It's the centerpiece of the Museum of Censored Art and the reason the temporary museum exists.

    “We're making him and his work visible again as close to the original site as possible,” Blasenstein said.

    The film was part of the 105-piece "Hide/Seek" exhibit that opened at the Gallery in October showing a century of art exploring gay portraiture. The 4-minute film contains 11 seconds of video of ants crawling on a crucifix. That imagery incensed some conservative politicians and the Catholic League.

    Within 24-hours of their protest, the secretary of the Smithsonian had the video removed, calling it a distraction from the larger exhibit.

    Some in the art community call it censorship.

    "I believe that this sends ripples through the entire art world and that we're going to be sent right back to 1980s conservative realm where things like this happened all the time,” said Mike Iacovone, one of the protesters behind the Museum of Censored Art.

    Eileen McClatchy said she stopped Thursday to see what she wasn't supposed to see.

    "I don't know what the powers that pushed them to take it out were, but obviously some people don't want to see that truth or touch that pain," she said.

    Protesters raised $6,000 and got permits to put their makeshift museum next to the gallery because, they say, it's paramount that people be able to make their own decision.

    "Their purpose is to kind of facilitate that kind of learning and understanding, and if you're drawing people in for whatever reason, I don't see why that would be a bad thing,” museum visitor Carrie Garman said.

    "Hide/Seek” will be at the National Portrait Gallery until Feb. 13. So will the Museum of Censored Art.

    The Portrait Gallery supports the protesters' freedom of expression and hopes people who see the video will come in to see the entire exhibit.

    The video also was shown at Transformer Gallery after being pulled from the Portrait Gallery.