MICHELLE CASSIDY FOR THE HOYA After being banned from the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, controversial art pieces found a home outside the museum's doors.
MICHELLE CASSIDY FOR THE HOYA
After being banned from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, controversial art pieces found a home outside the museum’s doors.

This is not the first time a publicly funded arts organization has come into conflict with politicians who oppose certain subject matter. The ’90s saw the National Endowment for the Arts lose 40 percent of its funding in response to Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photography and Andres Serrano’s work titled “Piss Christ” — an image of a crucifix submerged in his urine. Likewise, in 1999 then-Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani fought and lost a political battle to pull the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s funding in response to an uproar over a painting of the Virgin Mary adorned with elephant feces.

Rick Kelley (SFS ’11), president of GU AIDS Coalition, said he thinks that although the specific imagery of ants crawling on a crucifix may be offensive to some, it should not take away from the broader message of the artist.

“It is predictable that an organization with narrow interests would find some of the content objectionable,” he said, “but is it really worth censoring something that challenges our preconceived notions? I don’t think so: That’s the purpose of free speech.”

To Alexandra Crane (COL ’12), president of GU Art Aficionados, the Smithsonian removing the video was a difficult choice to make in today’s art world, regardless of the Portrait Gallery’s position as a publicly funded institution.

“I don’t think the dividing line is so clear,” she said. “Art works often present a complex and nuanced social commentary, which makes it nearly impossible to deem something as definitively offensive. When the censoring of art works begins, where does it end?”

A number of Georgetown faculty members, including English professor Dana Luciano, will be attending this weekend’s symposium, “Addressing (and Redressing) the Silence: New Scholarship in Sexuality and American Art,” a series of events presented by the gallery as a complement to the “Hide/Seek” exhibit. Luciano said that she expects discussion of the censorship issue to take place.

But Blasenstein said that he does not believe it is an issue of censorship alone. He said that he believes that the crux of the issue is not a matter of the imagery being anti-Christian, but rather the prevalence of LGBTQ voices in the exhibit.

“There was no anti-Christian element, that was really just an invention of the Catholic League,” he said. “It’s 11 seconds out of a four-minute video, and if you watch it, you’ll see that the video is not even about religion.”

From Blasenstein’s perspective, however, it is not so much a question of the freedom of expression of just one artist. Rather, it is a question of guaranteeing freedom of expression for all people regardless of sexuality.

“The only reason that the Wojnarowicz video got taken out is because that has gotten the most attention, because of the Catholic League,” he said. “But after that got taken down, CNS.com was still trying to shut down the rest of the exhibit. So it’s not an anti-Christian issue, this is a ‘get gay people out of the public square’ issue. That’s what those groups are after.”

This is not the first time a publicly funded arts organization has come into conflict with politicians who oppose certain subject matter. The ’90s saw the National Endowment for the Arts lose 40 percent of its funding in response to Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photography and Andres Serrano’s work titled “Piss Christ” — an image of a crucifix submerged in his urine. Likewise, in 1999 then-Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani fought and lost a political battle to pull the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s funding in response to an uproar over a painting of the Virgin Mary adorned with elephant feces.

Rick Kelley (SFS ’11), president of GU AIDS Coalition, said he thinks that although the specific imagery of ants crawling on a crucifix may be offensive to some, it should not take away from the broader message of the artist.

“It is predictable that an organization with narrow interests would find some of the content objectionable,” he said, “but is it really worth censoring something that challenges our preconceived notions? I don’t think so: That’s the purpose of free speech.”

To Alexandra Crane (COL ’12), president of GU Art Aficionados, the Smithsonian removing the video was a difficult choice to make in today’s art world, regardless of the Portrait Gallery’s position as a publicly funded institution.

“I don’t think the dividing line is so clear,” she said. “Art works often present a complex and nuanced social commentary, which makes it nearly impossible to deem something as definitively offensive. When the censoring of art works begins, where does it end?”

A number of Georgetown faculty members, including English professor Dana Luciano, will be attending this weekend’s symposium, “Addressing (and Redressing) the Silence: New Scholarship in Sexuality and American Art,” a series of events presented by the gallery as a complement to the “Hide/Seek” exhibit. Luciano said that she expects discussion of the censorship issue to take place.

But Blasenstein said that he does not believe it is an issue of censorship alone. He said that he believes that the crux of the issue is not a matter of the imagery being anti-Christian, but rather the prevalence of LGBTQ voices in the exhibit.

“There was no anti-Christian element, that was really just an invention of the Catholic League,” he said. “It’s 11 seconds out of a four-minute video, and if you watch it, you’ll see that the video is not even about religion.”

From Blasenstein’s perspective, however, it is not so much a question of the freedom of expression of just one artist. Rather, it is a question of guaranteeing freedom of expression for all people regardless of sexuality.

“The only reason that the Wojnarowicz video got taken out is because that has gotten the most attention, because of the Catholic League,” he said. “But after that got taken down, CNS.com was still trying to shut down the rest of the exhibit. So it’s not an anti-Christian issue, this is a ‘get gay people out of the public square’ issue. That’s what those groups are after.”

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