Warhol Foundation Threatens to Pull Funding from Smithsonian Unless it Restores Censored Wojnarowicz Video


The Warhol Foundation today threatened to stop funding exhibits at the Smithsonian unless it restores the David Wojnarowicz video piece "A Fire in the Belly" to the National Portrait Gallery's Hide/Seek exhibit. The Smithsonian, as you may know, pulled the Wojnarowicz piece from the exhibit after complaints from the Catholic League that the video, which depicts ants on a crucifix and memorializes the death of Wojnarowicz's lover from AIDS. 

Warhol Wrote the Warhol Foundation in a letter:

Mr. Wayne Clough
Smithsonian Institution
SIB Office of the Secretary
MRC 016
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.

Sincerely yours,

Joel Wachs

It's good that folks are finally taking action over this shameful censorship.

Also, Tyler Green reports that National Portrait Gallery commissioner James Bartlett has resigned in protest:

"Bartlett is the former board president of the Cleveland Museum of Art. The commission functions as a kind of board of directors for the gallery."

Frank Rich Bashes The Smithsonian Over Censorship [tr]
Watch: Activist Banned for Life from Smithsonian for iPad Protest [tr] 
National Portrait Gallery Censors AIDS Artwork [tr]


  1. Knox says

    I applaud the National Portrait Gallery for having the Hide-Seek exhibit in the first place.

    I also applaud the Warhol Foundation for taking this action and for their well-reasoned letter to NPG.

    It is unfortunate that the NPG reacted to Donahue’s complaint by pulling A Fire In My Belly from the exhibition. The people who complained were people prompted by Donahue who never even visited the exhibit.

    The right thing to do is to restore the work. If they do, they will, no doubt, have funding threats from the “right.” Of course, it shouldn’t be about the money, but they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

  2. Yeah, WhAt? says

    Honestly folks it goes both ways. We’ve been quick to lable people bigots and censure them, so I’m not surprises to see this response in like at all. Myself being a gay man, I might not agree with all the messages the gay community puts out, but jeez freedom of speech much?

  3. HadenoughBS says

    I hope all like-minded Smithsonian financial contributors, supporters and sponsors who believe in free speech and free artistic expression let the institution know how despicable their actions in this matter have become. To bow to the demands of this one-man so-called “Catholic League” is both disgusting and disturbing. Let this League (man) finance its (his) own Christianist show if it (he) wants to make a statement of artistic opposition. Censorship is NOT the proper response by the Smithsonian.

  4. says

    Yeah, WhAt?

    Your comparison of censorship of the Arts. And complaints about giving bigot liars national media platforms pretending they are experts and lying isn’t even CLOSE to being the same

  5. Paul R says

    While I agree with the sentiment, it’s absurd to think the Smithsonian is going to be swayed by the threat of losing the $125K a year the Warhol foundation has provided. Members of Congress were talking about pulling all public Smithsonian funding (which was obviously an absurd threat they could never follow through on, but the could still withhold quite a bit), so the foundation’s contributions are mere pennies relative to federal funding.

    It’s 1989 all over again, with Republicans terrified of gay-themed or -created art and making noxious threats in the name of family values. They never change.

  6. Brad says

    It’s a house of art, not a house of religion. What are they seriously going to do if you restore the piece? You’re the Smithsonian for God’s sake, show some backbone.

    “Boo hoo, I don’t like that piece of art because it shows my God in anything other than a positive light. Take it down now because I said so!”

  7. Joe says

    What’s sad is that so much of our congress and the NPG bowed down to a christian bigot who literally is a guy with a computer. However, it took years of lobbying and pressure to get an entire exhibit about the queer community in the npg.

  8. Brix says

    If the author of the letter’s name sounds familiar, he was a member of Los Angeles City Council. He and Jackie Goldberg were responsible for implementing most of the GLBT protections we still enjoy in City law.

    When term limits were enacted he eventually termed out then ran for mayor. When he didn’t get mayor, he moved to NYC to head up Warhol Foundation. Nice guy.

  9. Chunks says

    I guess the Smithsonian thought nothing of taking it down because if it were Mohammed and not Jesus, there would be no outcry about censorship from the Left. Gotta be sensitive to the right types of religion…

  10. says

    As anyone who has actually seen it knows the video shows ant crawlign over a cruciifx for 11 seconds. It’s not the point of the video — it’s merely one imaga among many.

    The cowardice of the Smithsonian is mind-boggling. But this affair has highlighted the video – whcih is now being shown in any number of places.

    Bravo to the Warhol Foundation. Somewhere Andy is smiling.

  11. Paul R says

    @David, Andy was a longstanding closet case (“asexual”–always annoyed me) who never smiled, so I doubt he’s smiling in death. And if the Smithsonian loses its main source of funding, it closes (impossible).

    I’m not defending or attacking either. It’s all just typical BS. The Portrait Galley shouldn’t have to deal with this crap.

  12. AnonInSoCal says

    BRIX is right–Joel Wachs is a good guy. I knew him personally as a neighbor and a city councilman. For whatever the $125K is worth to the Smithsonian, I’m glad he did it (someone had to).

  13. miami says

    Why dont they ask for their money back, since they are not getting what they originally funded. If the Smithsonian dosent have the money then perhaps they should get it from a special appropriations from the Rep who originally hated it. Don’t they deserve it for their “loss of investment”?

  14. says

    Paul, Andy was not a closet case and he smiled all the time — except when cameras were pointed at him the better to maintain his pose of robotic remove. He was in no way shape or form asexual. I knew several of his boyfriends.

  15. Paul R says

    David, his private and public lives were obviously completely separate, and his carefully constructed public artifice was of an asexual, unsmiling individual. What he did in private isn’t especially relevant to me because it was so removed from the public, so to me that’s a type of closet case. Plenty of current actors have boyfriends, but if they’re not publicly out, that’s a closet case.

    And “asexual” was a word he ascribed to himself at some point—I didn’t come up with it. I always found it odd given that Joe Dallesandro and drag queens played such huge roles in Factory films.

  16. Jerry6 says

    I guess it is OK for the Catholic Church to object to the ants on a crucifix , so take it down. It can be replaced by depictions of the Catholic Church in action over the centuries with paintings of things like Joan of Ark being burned at the stake; or maybe someone being tortured on the Rack; or– Well, you know, “Love thy naibour(sp) as thy self” kind of stuff that is so “Catholic”.

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