That‘s is the apparent theme of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery’s Christmas season exhibition. According to CNSNews.com, the federal funded gallery’s exhibit features “images of an ant-covered Jesus, male genitals, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen Degeneres grabbing her breasts and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show‘s catalog as ’homoerotic.’”
The exhibit, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” opened on Oct. 30 and will run throughout the Christmas Season, closing on Feb. 13.
“This is an exhibition that displays masterpieces of American portraiture and we wanted to illustrate how questions of biography and identity went into the making of images that are canonical,” David C. Ward, a National Portrait Gallery (NGP) historian who is also co-curator of the exhibit, told CNSNews.com.
According to the museum itself, the exhibit shows a commitment to “showing how a major theme in American history has been the struggle for justice so that people and groups can claim their full inheritance in America’s promise of equality, inclusion and social dignity… These themes, historic and artistic, come together in ‘Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,’ the first major exhibition to examine the influence of gay and lesbian artists in creating modern American portraiture.”
“‘Hide/Seek’ chronicles how, as outsiders, gay and lesbian artists occupied a position that turned to their advantage, making essential contributions to both the art of portraiture and to the creation of modern American culture,” a plaque posted at the exhibit states.
The Smithsonian’s annual budget is $761 million, with $495 million being contributed by American taxpayers via federal government funds. According to a Smithsonian spokesperson, the National portrait gallery received $5.8 million in federal funding during fiscal year 2010, although the Smithsonian notes that taxpayer dollars are not used to pay for individual exhibits, including the “Hide/Seek” exhibit.
CNSNews.com describes a portion of the exhibit — two videos shown on a television screen as part of the “Hide/Seek” piece:
“The Pink Narcissus” is a video released in 1971 by James Bidgood (b. 1933). The National Portrait Gallery’s description for the video says, “The film is a surreal portrait of the youth’s emergence into gay life, his coming out symbolized by the metaphor of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly.” The video was originally 71 minutes long, and has been edited down to 7 minutes for display in the museum, according to the description.
“A Fire in My Belly” was created by David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992). The full-length version of this 1987 video, according to the description at the exhibit, is 30 minutes long. The version viewable in the National Portrait Gallery has been edited down to 4 minutes. The description says, “A Fire in My Belly, a compilation of footage largely shot in Mexico, weaves together numerous images of loss, pain, and death into a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic; it concludes in a picture of the world aflame.”
The description speaks of the video artist’s ”poetic, yet furious, condemnation of the way greed, religion, and selfishness conspire to label certain people as outside the scope of our caring.” It also quotes Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS, as saying, “When I was told I’d contracted the virus, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I’d contracted a diseased society as well.”
The four-minute version of the video shown in the exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery shows, among other images, ants crawling over the image of Jesus on a crucifix, two halves of a loaf of bread being sewn together, the bloody mouth of a man being sewn shut, a hand dropping coins, a man undressing, a man’s genitals, a bowl of blood, and mummified humans.
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