Curator Dan Cameron on David Wojnarowicz

by Paddy Johnson on December 8, 2010 · 5 comments Newswire

David Wojnarowicz, A Fire in My Belly

Last week, Smithsonian Institution officials in Washington removed David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly” from “Hide/Seek”, an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The move was made in response to pressure from Republicans and the Catholic League, a right-wing group with a long anti-gay record. House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) then called for the closing of the exhibition, citing the Wojnarowicz image – of a Jesus statue with ants crawling on it – along with other works with sexual themes as an “outrageous use of taxpayer money“.

Well, it’s not. Yesterday, Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes ran the most compelling interviews I’ve read on the subject, talking to Dan Cameron, Executive Director of Prospect New Orleans and former curator at The New Museum. In 1999 Cameron organized a David Wojnarowicz retrospective, titled “Fever.” Here, he talks about the driving ideology behind the work:

What was Wojnarowicz's reaction when these types of things happened to him?

Cameron: I think that David was pretty agonized a lot of the time, to be honest with you. He just didn't understand why someone who wants to actualize their life, their consciousness, in the broadest and richest possible way, why they'd become targets for people who want to shut that down. There was an essential confusion with him, he'd ask it over and over again: What is the source of homophobia in our society, and why do we not look at homophobia as a disease the same way we understand racism and sexism are bad and negative, and that they harm and even kill people? We've never had that national conversation, and David insisted that it be in the forefront of discussion of his work.

When the forces of religious-driven bigotry rose up, when he became the victim, he really suffered. It was really horrible for him to live with this reality. He was surrounded by people at the time who said, 'It's a bitter cup, but you're going to have to take it.' In that sense, this idea that people are saying that David's work is hate speech against Christians during the Christian season”¦ it's fascinating how passionately [the religious right has] used anti-bigotry and anti-hate language and that they have turned the same language and weapons to beat us up with.

I even heard Rep. Cantor go off on the class dimensions, saying it's only elitist East Coast liberals who believe this stuff is art.! To think of David, who was a Polish-American from a working-class background, and to hear these accusations of elitism, it's frightening. [Image: Wojnarowicz, Fire, 1987. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.]

To read the full interview click here.

  • Pingback: The Smithsonian Needs To Take A Stand

  • The Stand

    I’m sad to say that Rep. Cantor does have a point hidden under his rhetoric. Taxpayer money funds these exhibits but it is the status quo to only exhibit contemporary art that seems to only fit within left political rhetoric. In looking up exhibits at public funded museums and gallery spaces I found that in the last few years there have been over a dozen shows exploring homosexuality and at least five that explore a woman’s choice concerning abortion. In reading I found no examples of exhibits exploring marriage between woman and man or exhibits focusing on pro life. It is naive to suggest that there are no artists exploring those themes because I know for a fact that some do. One sided politics has dominated the art world for a very long time but it should not be allowed to dominate where public funding is involved. I think taxpayers who are concerned about this bias should write to their representatives demanding that museums and other gallery spaces that receive THEIR money should have to focus on more than just left agendas if they wish to continue receiving funding.

    • Anonymous

      Tax payer money did not fund this exhibition: It was privately funded.

      Let’s apply your argument to churches and see how it sounds: right wing politics has dominated many Christian churches and I don’t think it should be allowed to dominate when unlike everyone else, churches don’t have to pay property tax. Either churches start changing their tune, or we’ll start taking away clergy vestments and baptismal crosses.

      I don’t care for the right’s agenda, and generally think that the country would be better off without communities that are so radically prejudiced, but since I wouldn’t want someone to shut down all the galleries I visit, I’m not about to rage a campaign against the church.

      If I were to work tit for tat though, that’s exactly what I would do.

  • GODAMN

    Wojnarowicz is naive to think any right wingnut republican (which usually constitutes ALL REPUBLICANS since time eternal) has any idea who the artist was. Often times they are knee-jerk reactions. These are rational concerns on irrational grievances. The republican mind indeed the current Democratic state of mind prioritizes the following; Money for the elite, themselves and lastly the middleclass,WAR, Country and “God” whatever that means. There is no left, there’s right and extreme right to the point of crazy

    • Anonymous

      Wojnarowicz is the artist who died of AIDS in 1992. Who is naive to think Republicans have any idea who Wojnarowicz is?

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