Tag Archives: Smithsonian

Smithsonian puts Bayfield on ’20 Best Small Towns to Visit’ list

The town of Bayfield in northern Wisconsin is one of “The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2015,” according to Smithsonian.com.

Bayfield Mayor Larry J. MacDonald, in a news release from the Bayfield Chamber & Visitor Bureau, said, “The recent designation from Smithsonian reinforces all the qualities of the place we call home.

MacDonald believes the residents of Bayfield place “people, the environment and our businesses in high regard,” making it a community that stands out from all the rest.  

“We are lucky to have a talented community that chooses to be both supportive and protective of our many assets, including both Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands” he said. “It is hard to imagine a better place than Bayfield.”

For the past fours years, Smithsonian Magazine has highlighted its choices for the top 20 small towns in America as a way to encourage their readers to “take the path less traveled.”

A selection committee at Smithsonian.com selected this year’s top 20 towns from a pool of about 13,000 small American towns with populations of 20,000 people or less. According to Smithsonian writer and editor Bess Lovejoy, the committee used a geographic information service, ESRI, to narrow down its selection. 

Lovejoy wrote, “Mother Nature is the undeniable draw in Bayfield.”

The town, which sits on the pristine south shore of Lake Superior, is the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. 

Kelley Linehan, marketing and events manager at the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Bureau, said in the news release, “Clearly, the Smithsonian is a very well-respected institution, so this is a high honor for Bayfield. One of the aspects that I found to be particularly interesting is that their definition of a small town is 20,000 people or less. With Bayfield checking in at population 487, we were up against communities much larger than us, yet we made the final list.”

Bayfield is host to four major festivals each year including Bayfield in Bloom, Bayfield Festival of Arts and Gallery Tour, Apple Festival and the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race.

Home to 14 orchards and fruit farms, the town has also been dubbed the “Berry Capital of Wisconsin.”

Entertainment round-up for Feb. 20 | From Smithsonian exhibit of ‘cool’ to winner of Milwaukee public art installation


Smithsonian exhibit traces the meaning of ‘cool’

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery examines how the idea of “cool” permeates American culture. On display are 100 photographs of people who defined cool as a word for rebellion, self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery. The 100 who made the cut, trimmed down from a list of 500 names, include musicians, actors, athletes, comedians, activists and writers. At the origins of cool, a term originally born in 1940s era jazz culture, are entertainers such as Fred Astaire and Billie Holiday. The “granddaddies of cool” include Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass. More recent examples of cool include Marlon Brando and Madonna, counterculture rebels Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol and present-day torchbearers Jay-Z and Jon Stewart.

The exhibit runs in Washington, D.C. through Sept. 7.

HLN hopes to rebrand as TV for the social media generation

CNN spin-off HLN has embarked on plans to reformat its programming as a TV gathering place for social media users. In a departure from its current format, a traditional talk-TV channel, HLN will curate news, trending topics and viral content from all media platforms. The first salvo will be the syndicated Right This Minute, an hourlong show that spotlights emerging Web videos that will air at 10 p.m. Eastern time. The network will subsequently begin incorporating this social media format into existing programs, including Morning Express, News Now, Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew on Call.

Hugh Jackman to host Tony Awards

Producers of the annual telecast celebrating the best of Broadway announced Feb. 11 that Hugh Jackman will serve as the host for the 68th Tony Awards on June 8 at Radio City Music Hall. This will mark Jackman’s fourth time hosting the event. The ceremony will honor plays and musicals that open on Broadway before April 24, with nominations to be announced on April 29.

Last year’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, will be onstage this spring starring in a new production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Biden books ‘Late Night’ debut

Seth Meyers has scored a powerful guest for his first episode of Late Night: Vice President Joe Biden. The vice president’s office announced Biden will be one of Meyers’ guests on the Feb. 24 premiere. A Saturday Night Live alumnus, Meyers is taking over the show from Jimmy Fallon, the new host of NBC’s The Tonight Show. Fallon has executive guest of his own for his first week — first lady Michelle Obama, who will appear on Feb. 20.

Game over for ‘Flappy Bird’

The viral game sensation “Flappy Bird” vanished from the App Store and Google Play this month after its young Vietnamese creator said it had “ruined his life.” The mobile game, a simple yet maddening challenge that tested players to fly a tiny bird through an obstacle course of pipes, was downloaded more than 50 million times from Apple’s App Store. Creator Nguyen Ha Dong told tech website The Verge that the game was making $50,000 a day in advertising revenue. Several blogs speculated that the game’s deletion stemmed either from allegations that fake accounts had boosted the game’s popularity or the original game breached another gamemaker’s copyright. Dong denied the latter allegation on Twitter.

Users who had downloaded the game can continue playing it on their devices, but its removal from Apple and Android stores means new players will not be able to join the fun.

Lady Gaga shoots video at Hearst Castle

The famous Hearst Castle on the California coast has become a film site for Lady Gaga’s latest big-budget music video. According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, filming was taking place at the castle’s indoor blue-and-gold tiled Roman Pool and the outdoor Neptune Pool. Shoots at the castle, a historical landmark constructed for the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, are rare, as the site is now more commonly visited by tourists. Gaga donated $250,000 to the Hearst Castle Foundation and underwrote a $25,000 water supply study prior to filming. She also will make a public service announcement for water conservation and a short feature on the castle.

Which song from her ARTPOP is getting the Gaga video treatment is still unclear, although it is likely to be “Gypsy.”


NEWaukee and ART Milwaukee merge

Milwaukee’s young professional organization NEWaukee and arts development group ART Milwaukee announced earlier this month that they will be combining into one organization and retiring the ART Milwaukee brand. The change is largely cosmetic, as ART Milwaukee was originally an offshoot of NEWaukee and the groups shared several staff members. According to the ART Milwaukee website, the merger will allow “ART Milwaukee’s initiatives and the opportunities for Milwaukee’s creative class (to) grow exponentially.”

The merger officially took place at NEWaukee’s fifth birthday party on Feb. 13.

Rep gets NEA Grant to support ‘History of Invulnerability’

The Milwaukee Rep is among the 895 nonprofit organizations awarded an Art Works grant by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Rep’s $20,000 grant supports its upcoming production of The History of Invulnerability, a play about Jerry Siegel, the man who invented Superman. The production will mark only the third in the play’s history, and the Rep will use the grant to fund state-of-the-art projection systems to enhance the experience. 

“The artistic and technical challenges of this production demand an added level of financial support, so (the NEA’s) grant will enhance the onstage experience significantly,” said managing director Chad Bauman.

The NEA provided $23.4 million in Art Works grant funding this year.

Ex Fabula names Megan McGee first executive director

Ex Fabula, the Milwaukee-based nonprofit committed to strengthening community bonds through the art of storytelling, announced Feb. 12 that co-founder Megan McGee would become the group’s first executive director.

McGee was an instrumental part in helping Ex Fabula grow over the past five years from a small collaboration of local theater and storytelling enthusiasts to a community staple that now hosts monthly storytelling events, a regular iTunes podcast, a community radio show on WMSE and storytelling workshops.

McGee is known locally for her work as a member of the sketch comedy group Broadminded and for involvement with the theater community.

Milwaukee artist Ray Chi selected for East Side Library commission

The Milwaukee Public Library announced on Feb. 7 that multimedia artist Ray Chi would be awarded the commission for a public art installation at the library’s new East Branch, still under construction at 1910 E. North Ave.

Chi’s work will take the form of three “interventions” — described as “rack, serpent, and boulder” — that will transform three elements of the urban landscape: a bike rack, a winding patch of grass and the concrete walkway.

Chi, an associate lecturer at UWM, has lived in the city for 16 years, and recently received a 2013 Nohl Fellowship grant.

His proposal was the community favorite, according to a survey conducted by MPL.



Controversial Smithsonian gay art exhibit wins Best of Show prize

An international arts critic group has awarded a controversial LGBT art exhibit at the Smithsonian one of its annual Best in Show awards.

The U.S. section of the International Association of Art Critics/AICA-USA announced the award, along with 23 others, this week. The awards honor artists, curators, museums, galleries and other cultural institutions for excellence in the conception and realization of exhibitions.

The winning projects were nominated and voted on by the 400 active members to honor outstanding exhibitions of the previous season – June 2010 to June 2011.

The 24 winners of first and second places in 12 categories, selected from more than 100 finalists, include exhibitions focusing on contemporary artists Christian Marclay, Sarah Sze and Al Weiwei, the 20th century artists Pablo Picasso, Sonia Delaunay, Kurt Schwitters, and Paul Thek, as well as thematic exhibitions dealing with history of drawing through the 20th century, contemporary Japanese art, and Fluxus. 

The first place for Best Thematic Museum Show Nationally went to “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” in the National Portrait Gallery, at the Smithsonian Institution. The exhibit ran from Oct. 20, 2010, to Feb. 13, 2011. Curators were David C. Ward and Jonathan D. Katz.

Conservatives, especially the Catholic League, objected to the exhibit, specifically a video called “A Fire in My Belly” by the late David Wojnarowicz that included an image of ants crawling on a crucifix. The piece was removed from the show, a decision Smithsonian officials later said was wrong.

Second place in the category went to “The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure the Signs of Power, 1973-1991,” at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, N.Y., and curated by Helaine Posner and Nancy Princenthal.

Other winners:


1. Sarah Sze, Still Life with Landscape (Model for a Habitat), The High Line, New York, NY (June 8, 2011 – June 2012), Curator: Lauren Ross

2. Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, Pulitzer Fountain, Grand Army Plaza, New York, NY (May 2 – July 15, 2011); Project Organizer: Larry Warsh/AW Asia


1. Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art, Japan Society, New York, NY (March 18 – June 12, 2011); Curator: David Elliott

2. Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture 1991-2009, SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY (January 23 – March 28, 2011); Curator: Helaine Posner


1. Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH (April 16 – August 7, 2011); Curator: Jacquelynn Baas

2. Perpetual Motion: Michael Goldberg, University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach, Long Beach, CA (September 9 – December 12, 2010); Curators: Chris Scoates and Elizabeth Anne Hanson



1. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (May 4 – August 7, 2011); Curators: Andrew Bolton with the support of Harold Koda

2. Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay, Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, NY (March 18 – June 19, 2011); Curators: Susan Brown and Matilda McQuaid


1. Stan VanDerBeek: The Cultural Intercom, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX (February 4 – April 3, 2011 and May 14 – July 10, 2011); Curators: Bill Arning and João Ribas

2. Yael Bartana: A Declaration, “Conversations at the Edge” at the Gene Siskel Film Center, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL (March 10, 2011); Project Organizers: Andrea Green and Amy Beste


1. Christian Marclay, The Clock, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, NY (January 21 – February 19, 2011); Producer: Paula Cooper Gallery

2. Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’Amour Fou, Gagosian Gallery, New York, NY (April 14 – July 15, 2011); Curators: John Richardson and Diana Widmaier Picasso



1. Theaster Gates: An Epitaph for Civil Rights and Other Domesticated Structures, Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago, IL (April 30 – July 11, 2011); Curators: Kavi Gupta, Julia Fischbach, Peter Skvara, and Theodore Boggs

2. Lari Pittman: New Paintings and Orangerie, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, CA (September 11 – October 23, 2010); Curators: Lari Pittman and Shaun Caley Regen


1. Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (October 31, 2010 – January 9, 2011 and February 5 – May 1, 2011); Curators: Elisabeth Sussman and Lynn Zelevansky

2. Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (March 10 – June 5, 2011); Curator: Scott Rothkopf


1. Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977, Dia Art Foundation and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (June 25 – October 31, 2011); Curator: Lynne Cooke

2. Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, The Menil Collection, Houston, TX (October 22, 2010 – January 30, 2011); Curators: Isabel Schulz and Josef Helfenstein


1. On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, MoMA, New York, NY (November 21 – February 7, 2011); Curators: Connie Butler and Catherine de Zegher

2. Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (October 1, 2010 – January 9, 2011); Curators: Kenneth E. Silver, assisted by Helen Hsu, and Vivien Greene as curatorial advisor


1. The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA, Musée Nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris, France, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (May 21 – September 6, 2011, October 5, 2011 – January 22, 2012, and February 28 – June 3, 2012); Curators: Janet Bishop, Cécile Debray, and Rebecca Rabinow

2. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt 1736-1738: From Neoclassicism to Expressionism, Neue Galerie, New York, NY (September 16, 2010 – January 10, 2011); Curator: Guilhem Scherf

This year’s nominating committee included art critics Eleanor Heartney, Marek Bartelik, Rebecca Cochran, Peter Frank, Francine Miller and Susan Snodgrass.

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Museums collecting Occupy items

Establishment institutions have already decided the Occupy Wall Street movement’s artifacts are worthy of historic preservation.

The AP reports that more than a half-dozen major museums and organizations from the Smithsonian Institution to the New-York Historical Society have been avidly collecting materials produced by the Occupy movement.

Staffers have been sent to occupied parks to rummage for buttons, signs, posters and documents. Websites and tweets have been archived for digital eternity. And museums have approached individual protesters directly to obtain posters and other ephemera.

The Museum of the City of New York is planning an exhibition on Occupy for next month, according to an AP report.

“Occupy is sexy,” said Ben Alexander, who is head of special collections and archives at Queens College in New York, which has been collecting Occupy materials. “It sounds hip. A lot of people want to be associated with it.”

To keep established institutions from shaping the movement’s short history, protesters have formed their own archive group, stashing away hundreds of cardboard signs, posters, fliers, buttons, periodicals, documents and banners in temporary storage while they seek a permanent home for the materials.

“We want to make sure we collect it from our perspective so that it can be represented as best as possible,” said Amy Roberts, a library and information studies graduate student at Queens College who helped create the archives working group.

The archives group has been approached by institutions seeking to borrow or acquire Occupy materials. Roberts said they were discussing donating the entire collection to the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University. Tamiment declined to comment.

Much of the frenzied collection by institutions began in the early weeks of the protests. In part, they were seeking to collect and preserve as insurance against the possibility history might be lost not an unusual stance by archivists.

What appears to be different is the level of interest from mainstream institutions across a wide geographic spectrum and the new digital-only ventures that have sprung up to preserve the movement’s online history.

The lavish attention poured on the liberal-leaning movement has not gone unnoticed by conservatives.

Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, blogged sarcastically under its “Corruption Chronicles” about the choice by the Smithsonian to document Occupy.

“It looks like it’s taxpayer-funded hoarding, as opposed to rigorous historical collecting,” said Tom Fitton, president of the organization.

The Smithsonian said its American history collection also now includes materials related to the massive rally by the limited government, anti-tax tea party movement against health care reform in March 2010 and materials from the American Conservative Union’s Washington, D.C., conference in February.

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University launched OccupyArchive.org in mid-October on a hunch that it could become historically important. So far, it has about 2,500 items in its online database, including compressed files of entire Occupy websites from around the country and hundreds of images scraped from photo-sharing site Flickr.

“This kind of social movement is probably more interesting to me, to be honest about it. And also so much of it is happening digitally. On webpages. On Twitter,” said Sheila Brennan, the associate director of public projects. “I guess I didn’t see as much of that with the tea party.”

The New York Public Library has added Occupy periodicals to its collection and is considering obtaining some protest ephemera.

And the Internet Archive, a massive online library of free digital books, audio and texts, has opened a mostly user-generated collection about the movement. As of Dec. 23, the Occupy collection included more than 2,000 items, while its “Tea Party Movement” collection had fewer than 50.

Source: AP

Controversial video shows spiritual longing

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, heresy is in the eye of John Boehner.

Last year U.S. Rep. Boehner, now the speaker of the house, protested a Smithsonian exhibit featuring a film by David Wojnarowicz. The film, “Fire in My Belly,” created in the mid-1980s, generated controversy because of a scene showing ants crawling over a crucifix.

Now the Milwaukee Art Museum will take up the issue with a lecture and panel discussion on May 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Lubar Auditorium (free with museum admission).

The work of Wojnarowicz, an openly gay artist who died of AIDS in 1992, formed part of a Smithsonian exhibit called “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” The exhibit was the first major exhibit to focus on how the sexual  identity of artists affected their work.

Insightful research created an exhibit that tells our story from the time of Walt Whitman through the present day. Thomas Eakins’ portrait of a young boxer opens the show: Male spectators cheer on a triumphant boxer who is nearly nude. Hidden desire glints in the eyes of the audience members, who gaze intently at the boxer’s privates instead of his prize hands.

The question of what must be sublimated and what can be revealed runs throughout the show, as it looks at the changing concepts of sexual identity in America and the unique insight that LGBT artists have on America.

The banning of one element of the exhibit unintentionally demonstrated the very point of the show – that some desires must still be hidden. Boehner, voicing the concerns of the Catholic League, objected to Wojnarowicz’s four-minute film because it seemed sacrilegious. Boehner found the image of ants crawling over a crucifix repulsive and insulting.

Rep. Eric Cantor said at the time, “This is an outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season.”

The film disturbs, but not for the reasons Boehner, Cantor and the Catholic League identify. Among its many rich, symbolic images are a set of reoccurring scenes of ants on the crucifix, a man having his lips sewn shut, blood dripping into a bowl and a broken loaf of bread sewn back together. Can one look at these images without feeling the suffering and vulnerability of Wojnarowicz as he mourned the death of his lover and grappled with his own HIV-positive diagnosis?

The spiritualism of “Fire in My Belly,” which can be seen on Youtube, struck me. Ants on the crucifix captured the agony of Jesus on the cross. The jarring image of ants saved the crucifix from its staid place above an altar to return it to us as a symbol of suffering.

Even more disturbing to me was the depiction of the artist’s lips sewn shut. As a Christian, my mind went to the prophecy of Isaiah used in relation to Jesus, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter.”

That image aligned Wojnarowicz’s suffering with the crucified Jesus while also expressing the way our culture silenced him. Similarly, the dripping blood – was it from Jesus, from the artist or from us? – invited us to see our own oppression in the film.

But the image that stayed with me the most shows two halves of a loaf of bread sewn back together. It looked like the bread one might use in communion when the pastor says, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.”

Wojnarowicz depicted the brokenness healed – an enigmatic image of hope.

Instead of sacrilege, the film gave voice to a spiritual longing and desire for God. Perhaps that was what was most controversial for Boehner, that Thomas Eakins’ hidden homoeroticism was less damning than David Wojnarowicz’ open spiritual longing.

Smithsonian chief defends removal of video

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough defended his decision to remove an artist’s video that depicted ants crawling on a crucifix from an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, saying a controversy over the short clip threatened to overshadow its first major exhibition on gay themes in art history.

Critics had blasted Clough’s decision as verging on artistic censorship while members of Congress and a Catholic group had complained that the video was sacrilegious.

In his first public response to questions on the issue, Clough said the controversy overshadowed the exhibition and threatened to spiral beyond control into a debate on religious desecration. He said he acted to preserve the overall exhibit, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.”

“I still believe it was a right decision and I’m still proud that that exhibit is still up and thousands of people are coming and learning what we hoped they would learn from it,” Clough told The Associated Press.

In November, the Catholic League complained that the video, “A Fire in My Belly,” by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, was sacrilegious because of the crucifix clip. The artist’s work explored the subject of AIDS. Wojnarowicz died of complications from the disease in 1992 at age 37.

The exhibit also includes works by major artists including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Thomas Eakins and Annie Leibovitz, among others. It’s the largest exhibit ever staged by the Portrait Gallery.

The Smithsonian took down the video the same day complaints were made public. Even though the video was removed, Clough said he still receives e-mails complaining about the exhibit’s overall theme. The show also drew praise from critics.

Clough said he had to consider the Smithsonian’s long-term stability and is expecting “very difficult budget situations” with Congress in coming months because of the federal deficit. About 65 percent of the Smithsonian’s budget comes from public funds.

Clough said he expects the exhibit controversy will come up during budget discussions.

Clough, who took over the Smithsonian’s helm in 2008, has largely avoided controversy. His decision to remove the video, rather than stand for those calling for the exhibit’s academic integrity or free speech, drew rebukes from the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Andy Warhol Foundation and other artists with works in the exhibit.

The former university president said he respects those who disagree with his decision.

“It was a difficult position for me personally because I have been a supporter of free speech everywhere I’ve gone, as well as gay rights, and to be perceived in some other light is a painful experience for me,” he said.

Smithsonian exhibit moves from hide to seek

As might be expected, controversy has befallen the “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., through Feb. 13. The show represents the first time a major art museum in the United States has staged a thematic exhibition about gay identity, relationships and the LGBT influences on modern art movements. The fact that the conservative National Portrait Gallery (part of the Smithsonian organization) stepped up to the plate is shocking in and of itself.

Ironically, the controversy does not center on sexual identity issues but the old saw horse of religion. A four-minute excerpt from David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in the Belly” contains a brief glimpse of ants crawling over a crucifix. Wojnarowicz died of AIDS in 1992 at age 37. Like the “Hide and Seek” theme, the Catholic League/Republican call for removal of the video most likely contains layers of prejudice against the entire exhibition.

Smithsonian administrators withdrew the video without discussing the decision with the exhibition’s two curators, David C. Ward of the NPG and Jonathan D. Katz of the State University of New York at Buffalo (one straight, one gay).

This misguided institutional choice caused the art world to rally against the show. Most recently, artist A.A. Bronson asked that his mural-sized photograph of his deceased partner Felix (the final image in the exhibition) be removed in protest and the Andy Warhol Foundation threatened to withhold future Smithsonian funding. In this sense, the conservative sect has ingeniously turned the art world against the show, setting it on a path of self-destruction.

The exhibition and its accompanying catalog are a massive curatorial feat. The 105 works stitch together the role of LGBT perspectives into a larger cultural framework and reveal, perhaps for the first time, how integrated and essential gay artists were to the developments of modern art .

The show is quietly staged. You traverse the permanent collection of presidential portraits to find the entrance where the title wall presents Thomas Eakins’ 1898 “Salutat,” a 50 x 40 inch painting of a young boxer addressing the crowd after a match. The real subject here is not boxing but the admiration of the athlete’s near naked body, which glows with a heavenly light. His “salute” beckons us into the galleries and sets the tone for the nuanced, layered readings of all the work.

The exhibition unfolds chronologically. The 19th- and early 20th-century room is held together by the commanding gaze of Walt Whitman (who lived with a man, Peter Doyle). The photograph, taken by Eakins in 1897, shows daylight creeping into a dark room with the elderly, busy-bearded poet anchored in his chair, staring directly at us with a look of fitfully weary resolve. Whitman tried to “remove the veil” and amplify the “hidden voices,” as did so many others in these rooms, but our lingering feeling is not triumph but exhaustion.

By the mid 1900s the larger forces of the post World War I avant-garde allowed sexual identity to show itself more directly. The female artist Romaine Brooks’ stunning self-portrait in gray tones presents a creature of the night in male attire peering from under the brim of her top hat, stubbornly separate from mainstream culture but courageously confrontational. Nearby we have Marcel Duchamp in drag, photographed by Man Ray as Rrose Sélavy, his alter ego. We begin to see the fluidity of sexual identity as a freeing force in history. It plays into the larger transgressive art world role of standing outside the mainstream in order to see it more clearly.

How much to disclose, how much to keep hidden, when and where to assert one’s identity are questions that occupy all of the works in the show as well as life itself, gay or straight. Even at times of heightened tolerance, the game of hide and seek continues. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas look directly out of Cecil Beaton’s 1935 photograph with a stubborn sense of “coming forward,” but the picture plane feels like a prison wall with the societal boundary of ‘them and us’ rigidly binary.

At the heart of the show, a coded, private exchange between Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, who were lovers, seems hesitant and tender. These giants of the 1960s New York art world use the push and pull of collage, with its messy amalgamation of signs, found objects, erasures and indecipherability, as the perfect disjointed response to the previous heroic, heterosexual world of abstract expressionism. Johns and Rauschenberg reground art to the everyday but also reinstate a beneath-the-surface emotional intimacy and vulnerability that is easy to overlook in the standard story of their work.

The 1970s and ’80s bring newfound expressive freedoms. Queer, feminist and multi-cultural studies pried open an insular art world. Peter Hujar’s photograph of writer Susan Sontag relaxing but deep in thought (1975) calls across the room to Robert Mapplethorpe’s portrait of the leather-clad Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter (1979), a humorous re-framing of the family portrait. Sontag and Mapplethorpe spoke of universal conditions like beauty and mortality, making their work especially dangerous.

Keith Haring’s “Unfinished Painting” of 1989 best introduces the devastation of AIDS. By the next year, 18,447 people had died of the virus, including Haring. In the corner, Felix Gonzalez Torres’ pile of candy pays bittersweet tribute to his deceased partner Ross Laycock. The 175-pound mound represents the healthy weight of Ross. The public can take pieces, which then diminishes the pile. A cycle of wasting and re-birth ensues, not unlike ants crawling on a crucifix – a ceaseless erosion of even the things we love.

We know we are in Washington, D.C., when we get to the Torres piece, which sports a warning sign: “Eating candy from this exhibition may present a choking hazard.” This little bit of legal paranoia amplifies how truly daring an act it was to stage this show at the National Portrait Gallery.

Smithsonian exhibit draws fire from the right

One hundred years ago, abstract art raised a few eyebrows. About 75 years ago in Nazi Germany, some of the most groundbreaking art was labeled as degenerate and subject to suppression and destruction. More recently, the 1980s saw culture wars played out over issues of censorship, funding and conservative social values.

We’re still dealing with these issues.

“Hide/Seek: Difference in Desire in American Portraiture” is a major exhibition currently installed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., part of the Smithsonian Museum (a full review of the exhibition by Debra Brehmer is forthcoming in the next issue of the Gazette). Many of the artists are marquee names in American art: Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg. The real theme of the exhibition is sexuality of subjects and artists and it is a landmark exhibition for gay identity in art. American art, and its history, is starting to come out of the closet.

But not fully. A controversy has erupted over a film by David Wojnarowijcz (pronounced voy-nah-ROE-vich) called “A Fire in My Belly.” This film, from 1986-1987, is a mediation on life and death, the flesh and its fragility. The piece is a reaction to the illness and death of Wojnarowijcz’s partner, artist Peter Hujar, from AIDS in 1987. Wojnarowijcz succumbed to the illness in 1992.

And the controversy?

It centers on a mere 11 seconds of the film showing ants crawling over a crucifix. As described by writer Blake Gopnik in the Washington Post, “It seems such an inconsequential part of the total video that neither I nor anyone I’ve spoken to who saw the work remembered it at all.”

This 11 seconds of footage was enough to rile the Catholic League, which decried it as “hate speech.”

Gallery director Martin Sullivan and the National Portrait Gallery caved to pressure. Adding insult to injury, the video was yanked from the exhibition Nov. 30, the eve of World AIDS Day.

Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League complained, “The Smithsonian would never have their little ants crawling over an image of Muhammad.”

What Donohue and others fail to note is the greater meaning of the work as a representation of suffering, death and loss. There is a complex history of using religious iconography to explore the experiences of life in all its messy detail, and this video is hardly a derisive commentary on religion.

From these few seconds of imagery, the flames of outrage were fanned to include attacks on the perceived funding of the exhibition.

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., decried the exhibition as “an outrageous use of taxpayer money,” and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, made veiled threats about the fate of arts funding with the Republican shift in Congress imminent in January.

Donohue implied that this was an issue of class conflict when he commented, “Why should the working class pay for the leisure of the elite? When in fact one of the things the working class likes to do for leisure is go to professional wrestling. And if I suggested that we should have federal funds for professional wrestling to lower the cost of a ticket, people would thing I’m insane. I don’t go to museums any more than most Americans do.”

Because of the Smithsonian’s status as a federal institution, these detractors made gross assumptions about the source of the exhibition’s funding. In fact, the cost of about $750,000 was covered by private donors.

The caving of the National Portrait Gallery to conservative pressures brings back shades of the culture wars of the late 1980s, particularly the cancellation of the 1988 Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery, ironically also in Washington, D.C. Conservative members of Congress opposed the exhibition of his work and prompted Sen. Jesse Helms on a crusade meant to eviscerate the National Endowment for the Arts and federal arts funding.

The National Portrait Gallery has issued a tepid statement explaining that the decision to remove Wojnarowijcz’s piece was because it was a “distraction.” But this has only galvanized the larger art community nationwide. Institutions such as the New Museum in New York are speaking out and showing “A Fire in my Belly,” raising the profile of gay art as well as issues of censorship and hypocrisy in the criticism leveled at this work.

In the Midwest, we may seem far removed from these heated issues. However, it’s only six months now since the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center received its settlement from the illegal 2005 Milwaukee vice squad shutdown of “Naked Boys Singing.” Freedom of speech and expression ultimately prevailed, but the insidious threat of censorship sadly still looms over the arts.

Smithsonian under fire over gay exhibit

The Smithsonian is under fire for removing a video from the groundbreaking gay exhibit “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery.

David Wojnarowicz, a prominent New York City-based gay artist who died of AIDS, created the video in 1987. It depicts Jesus on a crucifix covered with ants. Titled “A Fire in My Belly,” it was intended as a statement about the universal suffering caused by AIDS.

But Christian-right groups condemned the video as “hate speech.” A spokesman for incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told CBSnews.com that the exhibit was an “outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season.”

Under pressure, Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery director, removed the video on Dec. 1.

“I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious. In fact, the artist’s intention was to depict the suffering of an AIDS victim,” Sullivan said in a statement. “It was not the museum’s intention to offend.”

Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, a Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee, told Fox News that the entire exhibit was an “in-your-face perversion paid for by tax dollars.”

He and other right-wing lawmakers are waging a high-profile campaign against the exhibit and threatening to pull the Washington gallery’s federal funding after taking over control of the U.S. House in January.

After the crucifix video was removed, art writers and free speech advocates denounced the museum for caving in to censorship. The exhibit is billed as the “first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern portraiture.”

Wendy Olsoff, the co-owner of the PPOW Gallery and the David Wojnarowicz estate, said the uproar reminded her of the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s. “It saddened me enormously,” Olsoff told AOL News. “This is about fear, fear of diversity. People are trying to use art to scare the public.”

Michael Ward Stout, president of the Mapplethorpe Foundation, which contributed to the “Hide/Seek” exhibit, said the video removal “amounts to the Christian Right’s idea that they should become curators.”

“The attack is on gayness, and images of it, more than on sacrilege,” Blake Gopnik, an art writer, wrote in The Washington Post. “And the Portrait Gallery has given in to this attack.”

A Washington art gallery pledged a round-the-clock protest against the video’s removal. Transformer Gallery manager Barbara Escobar told the Associated Press that her small, nonprofit gallery will show, “A Fire in My Belly” in its storefront window every day and night until it’s reinstated.

About 75 people joined a silent protest march to the Smithsonian on Dec. 2. They carried pictures of a man with his mouth sewn shut to protest censorship of Wojnarowicz’s art.