By Joseph Ross
The National Portrait Gallery recently made a devastating decision. They removed a video that was part of their groundbreaking exhibit titled Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. You might also want to read the Washington Post’s article about the removal of the video.
In short, within a longer video installation, part of this exhibit, a section appears in which ants crawl over a crucifix. This section was deemed objectionable by William Donohue, the president of The Catholic League, and by various members of Congress.
It’s been a while since we had this kind of “culture war” in American art and politics. But here we have it once again. What can be said of this kind of censorship? We have a dangerous situation when a religious organization and various political leaders are offended by something in a work of art, they complain, and then the museum, a public organization, removes that work of art.
What do you think? What should the National Portrait Gallery have done? How important is freedom of expression for artists?
My sense is that freedom of expression is absolute. If people are offended by a work of art, they are free to walk away from it. If people are offended by a work of literature, they are free to put that book down. Yet when a public museum decides to remove a piece of art from an exhibit which has been planned and approved by its curators, because some individuals are offended, that public museum limits the artistic expression of those artists whose work is featured—and it limits the public’s ability to see art based upon the sensitivities of the few.
What do you think?