Walker director condemns National Portrait Gallery over handling of controversial video

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  • December 15, 2010 - 1:15 PM


Olga Viso, director, Walker Art Center / Star Tribune photo by David Brewster

 The Walker Art Center's director Olga Viso on Tuesday condemned the controversial removal of a video by late artist, writer and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz from a show at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Viso traveled to D.C. on Monday to see "Hide/Seek," an exhibition work by mostly gay and lesbian artists that included the Wojnarowicz video. She said the Walker would start screening the video later this week. Read her complete statement on the Walker's website,  here.

An excerpt of "Fire In My Belly" is on YouTube.

The work, which was denounced as anti-Christian by William Donohue of a group called the Catholic League, is titled "A Fire in My Belly," and dates to the late 1980s. It was created partly in response to the 1987 AIDS-related death of Wojnarowicz's friend and mentor, the photographer Peter Hujar.The video, with music by Diamanda Galas, includes a scene of ants crawling over a small crucifix that is lying on the ground. Much of it was shot in Mexico, which Wojnarowicz visited on several occasions. Wojnarowicz died of AIDS-related illness in 1992. His art has since been collected by the Museum of Modern Art and other institutions, includine the Walker.

The video was removed by museum directors at the beginnig of December, sparking protests, media coverage and editorials, including one by Frank Rich in Sunday's New York Times.

Viso said she was impressed by the show, which she called "groundbreaking," "thoughtful" and "well-researched." She expressed her opposition to the removal of the video, saying, "I am, of course, deeply disheartened by the Smithsonian’s recent actions and join my colleagues at the Association of Art Museum Directors and the Andy Warhol Foundation, on whose boards I also serve, in their statements of disapproval and condemnation."

The Warhol Foundation on Monday  told the Smithsonian that it would not underwrite future exhibitions unless the video were restored to the show. The Smithsonian replied that it stood by its decision. The Warhol Foundation gave $100,000 in support of "Hide/Seek." That story here.

Holland Cotter's New York Times review of the NPG exhibition is here.

Meanwhile, Walker Art Center on Friday opens a new show of works on paper that will include one by Wojnarowicz. Titled "Four Elements," and seen below, it is a 1990 lithograph.








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