In 2010 the National Portrait Gallery put on an exhibition titled “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” wherein the artist David Wojnarowicz’s video art piece Fire in My Belly is a pointed attack on traditional masculinity as well as a nuanced statement on the “reality of the AIDS epidemic in Latin American Culture,” to quote Martin E. Sullivan who was the director of the National Portrait Gallery at the time. 1 Those familiar with Wojnarowicz will know that where the Wojnarowicz name goes, controversy will follow. In 1990 Wojnarowicz sued The American Family Association , who are a highly conservative organization of Catholics, and won the case.2 Wojnarowicz’s piece received strong backlash from the US Christian community who claimed the piece was blasphemous due to scenes of ants crawling across a crucifix. The National Portrait Gallery decided to take the piece out of the exhibition. In response many artists and arts organizations passionately protested, screaming that The National Portrait Gallery was caving to the wishes of a tyrannical minority, blatantly censoring the possibility of art.3
The Warhol Foundation was a leading sponsor of this event, but felt strongly that such actions represented blatant censorship, which goes against core tenets of the Warhol Foundation. In a show of their passionate disdain for such censorship in the arts, The Warhol Foundation announced a ban on any funding given to the Smithsonian. On January 11th, 2019 The Warhol Foundation announced that it has overturned the ban; The Warhol Foundation President, Joel Wachs, has stated that he believes that the “ban has had its intended effect of promoting freedom of artistic expression at the national level.”4 In conjunction with this announcement, The Warhol Foundation is awarding the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian $100,000 for the purposes of putting on an exhibition of the Native American artist Oscar Howe. After almost a decade of The Warhol Foundation suspending support of the Smithsonian, and all its many arms and branches, “The Smithsonian has also demonstrated a strong track record of highlighting underrepresented artists over the past eight years, which aligns well with the Foundation’s core values” said Joel Wachs.
Curious to see the video that sparked such a controversy? Click here.