Warhol Foundation Takes Aim at Smithsonian

sister wendy bill moyers screen shotThe intricacies of theology are not usually what concerns the artist. They’re concerned with the big, beautiful fundamentals, and there I have never had any problem. In fact, anybody who has a narrow sense of their religion, whether they’re Jew or Christian or Muslim or whatever, has only to look long and intelligently at the great work of another tradition and they will see what the religions have in common. Sister Wendy Beckett

The Warhol Foundation wants the Smithsonian to stop censoring or lose financing. The foundation sent a letter December 13 to Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution that says while it is proud to have been a lead supporter of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, it strongly condemns 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,” Warhol Foundation President Joe Wachs writes. “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. 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.”

According to the New York Times Art Beat, the video was pulled from the exhibition two weeks ago on Clough’s orders after the head of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, described it as hateful to Catholics because it includes an image of ants crawling over a crucifix. House Republicans condemned the exhibition as an “outrageous use of taxpayer money.”

In a statement posted on its site, the Smithsonian says it stands by the Exhibition and that “one of the exhibition’s 105 works—a short segment in a four-minute video created as a complex metaphor for AIDS—was perceived by some to be anti-Christian. It generated a strong response from the public. We removed it from the exhibition Nov. 30 because the attention it was receiving distracted from the overall exhibition, which includes works by American artists John Singer Sargent, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Annie Leibovitz and Georgia O’Keeffe.”

We wish they would stand by the exhibition and the work by Wojnarowicz and applaud the Warhol Foundation for standing up for what happens with its grant money. We’d also like to direct the Catholic League to this important video where Sister Wendy discusses another controversial work that angered some Christians, Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ.

“I think that to call it blasphemous is rather begging the question,” Sister Wendy tells Bill Moyers. “It could be, it could not be”

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