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Portrait Gallery censorship: Warhol Foundation threatens to cut Smithsonian funding

December 13, 2010 - 03:40 PM
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Updated 3:49 with statement from the National Portrait Gallery

Updated 4:08 with remarks from Wachs

The Warhol Foundation has spoken out against the Smithsonian Institution's decision to remove a David Wojnarowicz film from the Portrait Gallery with an ultimatum: Reinstate the work, or lose the foundation's financial support.

In a letter to Secretary Wayne Clough, President Joel Wachs stated that the Warhol Foundation has 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," says the letter. In the Portrait Gallery's annual report for 2009, the Warhol Foundation was listed as one of the museum's top donors, but this represents a small fraction of the Smithsonian's overall funding.

Bethany Bentley, spokesperson for the National Portrait Gallery, told TBD that the museum will not reinstate the work. Bentley could not comment on what  losing the Warhol Foundation's support would mean for the museum. "They were wonderful supporters of our Hide/Seek exhibit," says Bentley.

The full letter after the jump.

When Wachs was told by TBD that the Portrait Gallery confirmed they will not be reinstating the work, he said that he was disappointed.

"I hope they will rethink it, because they're wrong," says Wachs. "They've done an injustice, and they should correct it."

Wachs said that he had spoken with other foundation presidents, and expects many to follow suit.

"More and more people will speak out against this, and stand up to it, and take the action we've taken," says Wachs. "Hopefully, they will change their mind."

The Warhol Foundation evaluates their grantees through a formal application process. Wach says they will no longer be accepting any grant applications from the Smithsonian Institution.

"We don't feel we could give them money, because that stands against everything that Warhol stood for," says Wachs.

The following letter was sent today by The Andy Warhol Foundation to Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution:

December 13, 2010

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, 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

cc: Ms. Patricia Stonesifer, Smithsonian Chairwoman of the Board
Directors of Smithsonian Institution museums
Board Chairs of Smithsonian Institution museums

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