Controversy is still simmering after officials at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. recently decided to remove a piece of video art depicting Christ with ants crawling on him after complaints were received from a Catholic organization and members of Congress. The piece was included in the museum’s current exhibit titled “Hide/Seek,” which takes a look at sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture.
The exhibit itself touches on a number of controversial topics including sexuality, gender, desire and romantic attachment. There is an equal amount of controversy surrounding the curators for including the piece in the exhibit, but now equally for having decided to have the video installation removed. National Portrait Gallery director, Martin Sullivan expressed disappointment following the decision saying, "Was it a great decision? Absolutely not."
Was it a great decision? That is the big question surrounding the recent decision. I definitely think it was the wrong decision. Controversy and art has been a common theme for quite sometime. Does that mean that we should begin to censor all art exhibits in order to avoid controversy with all members of the general public? I definitely don’t think so. If we begin to censor exhibits based on the content contained there within, where does it end?
The whole situation surrounding this piece of video art reminds me of what recently took place in Paris at the Musée d’Art Moderne when a recent exhibit covering the photographic works of American photographer Larry Clark were banned to those under the age of 17 and featured a warning about the content of the exposition. The exhibit featured young teenagers engaging in sexual acts, drugs and in some cases violence. I by no means think the age limit for those under 17 was a good decision, but I feel that at least the entire exhibit was not censored because some may have found its content displeasing. There was quite a lot of controversy surrounding the Mayor of Paris’s decision to place an age limit ban on the exhibit, but I still feel that it was a better decision than what happened at the National Portrait Gallery.
If we begin censoring the content of art exhibits, at what point do we stop? When is it too much? How many complaints are too many? And whose complaints do we listen to? In any case, if you have the opportunity to make it to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, you should definitely go see this exhibit. And if you don’t like what you see, just remember that maybe you aren’t supposed to.