National Portrait Gallery censorship controversy: Artist projects film on portrait gallery, recreates '89 protest (PHOTOS)
Updated 11 p.m.
Echoing the 1989 protest of the cancellation of Robert Mapplethorpe's The Perfect Moment at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, performance artist Adrian Parsons on Thursday night projected a film that has been removed from the National Portrait Gallery on the facade of the building.
A 4-minute portion of the 30-minute film "A Fire in My Belly," by artist David Wojnarowicz, was removed from the NPG's Hide/Seek exhibit, which explores themes of GLBT relationships, earlier this week after drawing the ire of conservative groups, politicians and news services. The work of art includes images of homoerotic situations and Christ covered in ants.
The video began Thursday evening, after Parsons climbed a ladder near the gallery. Wearing a hard hat and reflective vest, he played the 4-minute portion of the film from a projector that he had plugged into the light pole that the ladder leaned against.
The projection started a bit later than expected and an earlier version of this story previously indicated that that portion of the protest had started before it did.
Parsons said he would stay on the ladder until he's told to come down. He left around 8 p.m.
- Parsons climbed a ladder to project the image on the Portrait Gallery (Photo: TBD Staff)
This is the second consecutive night that Parsons has demonstrated outside the Portrait Gallery. He staged a lonely protest Wednesday, holding a sign that read "National Censor Gallery." He stood in front of the gallery for hours as temperatures dipped throughout the night.
Parsons' demonstration recreated the famous Mapplethorpe protest, which followed the cancellation of his The Perfect Moment at the Corcoran Gallery.
The scheduled 1989 Mapplethorpe show at the Corcoran was canceled after Republican Rep. Dick Armey sent a letter to the NEA calling his work, and the work of artist Andres Serrano, "morally reprehensible trash."
The Smithsonian Institution on Monday removed "A Fire in My Belly" after an article about the Hide/Seek exhibit appeared on the conservative news service CNS. The article noted that the exhibit, which opened in October, would run "throughout the Christmas Season." It was later posted on the Drudge Report.
About 100 people joined the effort Thursday night, walking to the Portrait Gallery from the Transformer Gallery in Logan Circle, which hosted the original film after the NPG removed it. Victoria Reis, Director of Transformer, began the walk by reminding protesters of their goals, after earlier today sending a letter to the Smithsonian asking to have the work reinstated.
"This is a visual gesture to follow up on that letter," she told the crowd. "This is a silent, nonviolent action."
Transformer distributed masks designed by artists Geoffrey Aldridge, Grant Duncan and Ed Rock. Many protesters wore t-shirts supporting gay artists and decrying censorship.
"I want to thank the Smithsonian for providing an object lesson in the politicizing of art and curation that could not have been taught in the classroom alone," said Kristin Bergen, a Howard University professor who joined the protest.
Bergen was wearing a shirt that said "Silence = Death," from an ACT UP New York AIDS rally in 1987. She was joined by Jan Rothschild, who was wearing a shirt that said "Fight for Homo Erotic Art," which she wore in a 1990 protest against the NEA's decision to fund four artists whose work was deemed offensive.
"This feels like deja vu all over again," said Rothschild. "Museums have a responsibility to show art that has a diversity of viewpoints. Curators have the right to put on a show without censorship."
Artist Jim Cassell said the events of the past few days didn't surprise him, given the political climate.
"These people can't make these reckless decisions and think we'll look the other way," said Cassel. "That's dangerous, in a democracy."
The protesters gathered for a silent protest on the steps of the Portrait Gallery. One police officer stopped at the scene, but left after a brief discussion with James Alefantis, president of Transformer's advisory board. The protesters then continued on to the Capitol, where they stood silently on the steps overlooking the Mall.
Images from TBD's Sam Corum: