WARNING: This blog post contains graphic photographs and video of items on display (October 30, 2010 through February 13, 2011) in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

*** UPDATE ***

Express Yourself: A Major New Showcase Of Gay Portraiture

NPR – by Neda Ulaby (Listen to the Story)

Hide/Seek is not exactly hidden, but to find it, you have to thread your way upstairs and through the crowds visiting a hugely popular Norman Rockwell exhibit at the adjacent Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery is a smaller show, but it marks the first time a major museum in the United States has dedicated an entire exhibition to gay and lesbian portraiture.

For the first time, a major museum exhibition is focusing on gay and lesbian portraiture — in the exhibition Hide/Seek at the National Portrait Gallery.

“To see artwork, all by gay men and women in this country, all exhibited in a place like this — it’s amazing,” enthused a visitor, Gary Fisher of Washington, D.C. He added tartly, “It’s about time.”

The artists are actually not all gay, but the subjects generally are. Co-curator Jonathan Katz is an eminent queer studies scholar and art historian. He agrees that the Smithsonian’s involvement is a landmark achievement. “For a gay man of my generation to understand the federal government as a helpmeet was, shall we say, a new feeling,” he observed.

Katz came of age as an art historian in 1989, when the Corcoran Gallery of Art canceled a retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs. Their confrontational gay and S&M content stirred a furor in Congress. Since then, Katz says, major museums have basically blacklisted exhibitions focusing on gay sexuality. He put together this one with the Portrait Gallery’s David C. Ward, and its reviews have been terrific. Ward credits that in part to their different perspectives.

“Jonathan is gay, I’m straight,” Ward said. “Jonathan is the outside guy; I’m the inside guy.”

Ward says Hide/Seek is one of the biggest and most expensive shows the National Portrait gallery has ever launched, with over a hundred works of art. The show includes an ad for Arrow dress shirts from 1914 that pictures a pair of handsome bachelors enjoying domestic bliss. The illustrator, J.C. Leyendecker, used his boyfriend as one of the models…

Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibit Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts

CNS News – By Penny Starr

The federally funded National Portrait Gallery, one of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, is currently showing an exhibition that 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…

The Smithsonian Institution has an annual budget of $761 million, 65 percent of which comes from the federal government, according to Linda St. Thomas, the Smithsonian’s chief spokesperson. The National Portrait Gallery itself received $5.8 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2010, according to St. Thomas. It also received $5.8 million in federal funding in fiscal 2009, according to the museum’s annual report. The gallery’s overall funding in that year was $8 million.

St. Thomas told CNSNews.com that federal funds are not used to pay for Smithsonian exhibits themselves, including the “Hide/Seek” exhibit. The federal funds received by the Smithsonian, she said, pay for the buildings, the care of collections exhibited at Smithsonian venues, and museum staff, including the salaries for curators of exhibits. The exhibits presented at Smithsonian museums, including “Hide/Seek,” are funded by donations from individuals or institutions. Among the donors who provided support for the “Hide/Seek” exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery are The Calamus Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The John Burton Harter Charitable Foundation, and The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute and a former senior economist on the congressional Joint Economic Committee, told CNSNews.com, “If the Smithsonian didn’t have the taxpayer-funded building, they would have no space to present the exhibit, right? In my own view, if someone takes taxpayer money, then I think the taxpayers have every right to question the institutions where the money’s going.”

“Think about the Washington Post,” he said. “They don’t have to publish every op-ed that they get, right? They own the platform. In this case [the Smithsonian Institution], the taxpayers own the platform and so the taxpayers should decide what is presented on that platform.”

Gary Scott, an economist who is a senior research fellow at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, had a similar view.

“Leaving aside the merit or lack of it in the exhibit itself, the notion that taxpayers don’t fund it is unpersuasive,” said Scott. “First, most of the overall budget derives from tax monies for the facility, and maintenance and staff.  Second, the exhibit appears inside and is monitored by staff. Finally, if it was funded only by outside funding the exhibit would be outside in a snowdrift.”

A spokesperson for the gallery’s external affairs office said the cost to mount the “Hide/Seek” exhibit is $750,000, the most expensive exhibition to date at the National Portrait Gallery…

The “Hide/Seek” exhibit includes a television screen that shows edited versions of two videos, “A Fire in My Belly” and “The Pink Narcissus.”

“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.”

On Nov. 21, a “Hide/Seek Family and Friends Day” was held at the gallery in conjunction with the exhibit. The event was publicized on the Web site for the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution and other venues.

The promotion read, in part: “Gallery Talks & Tours, Kids & Families. EVENT LOCATION Throughout the museum COST Free RELATED EXHIBITION Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture … NOTE This friends and family day includes music and hands-on arts activities inspired by the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Guided tours of the Hide/Seek exhibition also available at special times.”

The “hands-on arts activities” for children inspired by the “Hide/Seek” exhibit were held in the atrium of the gallery.

CNSNews.com asked Ward if he thought the exhibit might be offensive to people who disagree with the homosexual lifestyle. He said, “I believe that the American public is mature and tolerant in its opinion of alternative points of view. This is an art and cultural exhibition that displays important and key works of artistic creation and attempts to interpret them against the background of American history.”

“This exhibition identifies specific artists who were gay and discusses how that identity affected their art,” Ward said. “It also shows how straight artists were also influenced in their art by questions about the fluidity of gender and identity. Insofar as Hide/Seek has an over-arching message it is that democratic culture consists of many strands and influences.”

“It would be wrong for us as a museum to close off the discussion of any question because of a personal or political point of view,” Ward said. “The National Portrait Gallery is a living institution, responsive to the social and cultural changes that we have experienced in America since our founding (and before!).”…]

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