In November of 2010, G. Wayne Clough of the Smithsonian bowed to pressure from the conservative right and anti-gay groups and removed a video piece (A Fire in My Belly) by artist David Wojnarowicz from the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Hide/Seek. The decision drew sharp criticism form other museums, The New York Times, artists, LGBTQ groups and their allies and museum patrons.
On Christmas day a few weeks later, I got a gift of $100. I turned and gave it to my brother, a skilled computer programmer, and asked him to replicate the National Portrait Gallery’s website as closely as possible and host it on two domains I’d just bought, nationalportraitgallery.net and nationalportraitgallery.us.
The sites were identical … membership and donation links, museum info, the works … except that I’d placed the censored A Fire in My Belly video front and center, along with a list of resources about related protests, response works and so on. The site was live on December 27th and the following press release was issued on January 1st, 2011:
National Portrait Gallery
Eighth and F Streets, NW, D.C., 20001
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dear Valued Patron,
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery is proud to present a special online-only screening of A Fire In My Belly by David Wojnarowicz. This presentation of the original 13-minute silent version has been made possible by the Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York.
A Fire in My Belly is a surrealistic video collage filmed in Mexico which expresses the suffering, marginalization and physical decay of those afflicted with AIDS. Wojnarowicz uses religious imagery in the tradition of art that uses such imagery to universalize human suffering.
A Fire In My Belly will not return to the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibition itself. The Secretary of the Smithsonian, The Secretary for History, Art and Culture and The National Portrait Gallery Director in collaboration with exhibition curators have taken great time to consider the requests of both supporters and opponents of the work's display, and feel this compromise is fair.
Please be warned that the video may be considered graphic or offensive to some viewers.
To view A Fire in My Belly, please visit our website:
For further information, please contact the National Portrait Gallery:
The project got some traction, mainly on art-fan blogs but did break through a few more mainstream outlets:
“After outraging the art world, several of its funders, and a giant chunk of its constituency with its fatal decision to remove David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly” from the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” show, the Smithsonian has chosen to respond to its critics in a dramatic, and rather odd, fashion: instead of returning the work to the exhibition, the institution has turned the National Portrait Gallery’s Web site into an all-Wojnarowicz-all-the-time resource center, complete with a “special online-only screening” of the original 13-minute long version of “Fire in My Belly.” - BLOUIN ARTINFO
Huffington Post reported on my website, but later corrected the article. The updated story is on view here.
I can’t find an archived link, but Jerry Saltz also wrote on a blog somewhere that he thought the museum’s decision to show the video on their website didn’t go far enough.
Here are some of the related articles my site collected: