Gone but Still Present: Hide/Seek

February 16, 2011 at 3:47 am Leave a comment

The National Portrait Gallery‘s Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture is now closed.  However, the exhibition posed some very important questions about representation and societal conventions that continue to demand contemplation. Moreover, G. Wayne Clough‘s decision to remove David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly sparked a wave of debate.

I visited Hide/Seek a few days before it closed. Similar to many people, I had viewed the Wojnarowicz video online.  Nevertheless, when I arrived at the National Portrait Gallery I first visited the Museum of Censored Art, the mobile trailer parked in front of the museum. 

In addition to exhibiting the removed video, this impromptu museum highlighted the events that led to the censorship.  In addition to the posted timeline and PPOW’s response, I found Jonathan Katz’s statement particularly poignant (see photo below).  Katz compares the removal of the video to the culture wars of earlier decades. His account encourages us to question the reasons behind the censorship and to consider what this act signifies for future exhibitions at publicly funded institutions.

This incident reminded me of an event I attended about two years ago. February 12-13, 2009, the Institute of Contemporary Art of the University of Pennsylvania hosted Imperfect Moments: Mapplethorpe and Censorship Twenty Years Later.  The symposium featured presentations by various cultural leaders including artists, art critics, and curators and a lively discussion between members of the panel and the audience.  This event was one of the first and best conversations that I’ve experienced regarding censorship in the arts.  I hope that the recent controversy surrounding the Hide/Seek exhibition will lead to serious and fruitful discussions about representation, rights, and censorship.

Entry filed under: Art, Museums. Tags: , , , , , .

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