Thursday, January 19, 2012

This Is Why You Never Cave to Radicals... only encourages them.

It's difficult to feel sorry for the powers that be at the Smithsonian, now that the same radical right-wing writer Penny Starr (not to be confused with the burlesque performer the LA Weekly calls a "“delightful sexpot”) is on the warpath, again. You may recall she led the call to censor the Hide/Seek exhibition at the Smithsonian in 2010.

In an article titled, ironically, "Tax-Funded Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibition Again Focused on Homosexuality," (ironic, because if anyone seems focused on homosexuality, it's clearly Penny Starr), she again reveals a cultural ignorance that would disqualify her from writing about art and literature for any non-propaganda-oriented publication. has the story:
Penny Starr, the conservative writer and activist who led the (successful) crusade to censor David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly (1987) at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., is back with a new outrage. Starr has taken offense at the museum’s current exhibition, “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” Oct. 14, 2011-Jan. 22, 2012, calling it another “exposition during the Christmas season focused on the homosexual lifestyle.”

In a long story for the right-wing Cybercast News Service last week, Starr reminds readers that during the winter of 2010 the National Portrait Gallery hosted “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” the exhibition of gay-themed art now at the Brooklyn Museum. The show included a four-minute excerpt of Wojnarowicz’s Fire in My Belly, a rapid video collage of Mexican street scenes, newspaper headlines, animals fighting and, for 11 seconds, ants crawling over a plastic crucifix.

In what has been christened the “The Anty Christ” scandal, the Catholic League claimed the video was an “attack on Christians” and lobbied Congress until it threatened to slash the museum’s funding. Smithsonian Institution buildings and operations are federally funded, but both “Hide/Seek” and “Gertrude Stein” were paid for by private donors. Nevertheless, the Smithsonian bowed to pressure and removed the video on Dec. 1, 2010.

Now, Starr has challenged the National Portrait Gallery to explain why two exhibitions in the last 14 months have been focused on “the homosexual lifestyle.”
I'll submit that it reveals much more about Starr than it does NPG that she's counting.

The Smithsonian, this time, seems to be ready to defend the show on its cultural merits:
In a statement, the museum responded, “Gertrude Stein, as our exhibition texts state, was one of America’s most widely known 20th century writers. She experimented radically with language and reached across the arts in a transatlantic community befriending young writers like Ernest Hemingway and artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. The fact that Stein was a lesbian did not influence why this exhibition was selected. Within the Portrait Gallery’s mission of interpreting significant and diverse individuals who influenced our national experience, she is an appropriate subject for a special exhibition.”
But the Smithsonian owns this latest tempest in a teapot, in my opinion. Had they told Ms. Starr and the opportunists she marshaled with her initial campaign that something as undemocratic and tyrannical as censorship was not going to take place in the National Portrait Gallery of the United States of America, thank you very much, they most likely wouldn't have encouraged this attention junkie to come back for more of the same.

As Rachel Corbett notes in "For those who missed it in D.C., “Hide/Seek” is currently up -- with the Wojnarowicz work -- at the Brooklyn Museum until Feb. 12, 2012."

Labels: art viewing, censorship


Blogger Janine Whitling said...

well stated, and incredible to believe this kind of passive aggressive homophobia still exists today, and in the arts of all arenas!

1/19/2012 09:14:00 PM  

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