In exchange for yanking David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video work “Fire in My Belly” from its Hide/Seek exhibit, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has been treated to civilian zappers, the Andy Warhol Foundation pulling future $100,000 annual contributions, and now artist AA Bronson requesteing his work be removed from the exhibit “out of solidarity” with Wojnarowicz. (Whereas Wojnarowicz portrayed Jesus as an AIDS-stricken corpose, Bronson’s photograph “Felix, June 5, 1994” shows his late partner Felix Partz immediately after his real-life AIDS death.) Oh, and now the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation is done with the Smithsonian, too.
Founded by gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe shortly before his death, the Foundation is joining Warhol in revoking its funding. Sure, that means just $10,000 a year will be absent, but combine that with a series of nationwide protests and we’re seeing the markings of a movement here.
Should a museum’s benefactors get to call the shots about what works are exhibited? Or how curators run their shows? Generally not. Donating money to a cultural institution, unless the memo line of the check has a specific purpose written down, is a gracious thing to do because you support the overall mission of the museum.
But I think it’s pretty well accepted that, absent whatever museums Liberty University operates, the overall missions of these venues should include something about “art for art’s sake,” not “art when it’s convenient for conservatives and lawmakers.”