How Do I Get Rid of this Image?: Recent Art Censorship Collaborations (Updated)

Posted: December 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

(Update I, II, and here for current responses)

This week has been the focus of quite a whirlwind of censorship directed against the arts. The weak-willed pulling of “Fire in  My  Belly” by  David Wojnarowicz and Gala Diamanda from the Smithsonian show on the issues of the non-hetreonormative identity titled Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, has dominated the conversation, but also we have seen the  Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art made its own contribution to the *art of censoring art”. At MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), which is newly headed by Jeffrey Deitch, there was a seasonal “whitening” of  a mural painted by internationally known street artist BLU. The mural was commissioned by Deitch for MOCA’s  upcoming “Art in the Street”.  The exhibit was ostensibly “”whitened” due to its facing towards the Veterans Administration healthcare building on Temple Street in Downtown Los Angeles and was deemed offensive to the service of members of the military and the Fallen from their ranks.

Not against the art, but the artists, Russia has detained members of the Voina group (Oleg Vorotnikov, 35, and Leonid Nikolayev, 27) for an anticorruption protest in which a car was overturned.  The Group however has been a bit of a thorn in the paw for the authorities in their art actions, check out a summary here, and have been under scrutiny by the authorities for some time.


Voina group - McDonalds Cat Throw 2010

Banksy is selling prints to keep these artists out prison and the 7 years sentence this crime carries.  The Prints titled “Choose Your Weapon” will be sold to 175 individuals who will be randomly drawn from those registered to buy on The site states: “Each print is £450 but if it’s any consolation Banksy is donating all royalties to the Voina artist co-operative in Russia, two of whom are currently residing in a St Petersburg jail”.

Fire in  My  Belly by  David Wojnarowicz and sound by Diamanda_Gala (1987)

Update I :        The Warhol Foundation has threatened to remove funding from the Smithsonian if the withdrawn ”Fire in MY Belly” is not reinstated to the Exhibition ”Hide/Seek”.  This threat is not without significance as the Warhol foundation is the second major contributor for the exhibition as well as having given approximately 400,000 dollars in donations within the last 4 years.   The Foundation director called the withdrawal of the piece “blatant censorship” defined by bigots who are operating in the context of only “ignorance, hatred and fear”.  One of the offending operations which demanded censorship of the piece, The Catholic league,  defined the piece as a form of “hate speech”. This stance which has been echoed by a number and variety of  conservative organizations who have been able to engage  a number of republican senators to bring force to this debate by additionally threatening the Smithsonian with the withholding of more general funds if the piece was not removed from the show.

After the disastrous and successful assault on art funding by Jesse Helms in the 80’s, based primarily on Andrew Serrano’s “Piss Christ”, the Smithsonian, quite naturally appraised the level of threat from Boehner and Cantor and attempted to rectify the problem with minimal damage to the Exhibition (sadly enough) through the removal of a single focused on piece.  Check the information here, at the New York Times.

Update II

The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation has joined the ranks of other foundations, as with the Andy Warhol Foundation, in the determined request to reinsert Wojnarowicz video back into the “Hide/Seek” exhibition or it will revoke future financing for the Smithsonian.   The Mapplethorpe Foundation had contributed a grant of $10,000 for the “Hide/Seek,” exhibition.

This is more than a sore point as Mapplethorpe’s work had been the focus of censorship in a cancellation of a Retrospective of his Work which was to take place at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington (1989), which was to take place shortly after his death from AIDS related complications.   The Exhibition was withdrawn because a number of the works were described as either of a homoerotic or sadomasochistic nature.  The Fear which compelled the Gallery to withdraw the exhibition was that of a continuation of inciting Conservatives, and Jesse Helms specifically, against art funding (NEA), as it had done in the “Piss Christ” case (and which came to decimate funding for the visual arts community, generally in the United States).

To highlight how this was not a unfounded concern, when the exhibition was brought to Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center, in its stead, the institution and its leader were immediately charge with the crime of public obscenity.


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