Smithsonian Stands by Controversial Video

A controversial exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has one fewer item – a video depicting ants crawling over Jesus Christ lying on a crucifix. The video was part of an on-going installation called “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.”

The remaining images consist of still pictures and paintings that “examine the influence of gay and lesbian artists.” Many contain nude subjects, including two men kissing as one holds a gun to the other’s chest.

Martin Sullivan, Director of the Gallery, says an advisory board carefully debated the exhibit before deciding that its serious nature and important artists merited a showing. Sullivan acknowledged the “theme of identity and same-sex desire” is something “not everybody is comfortable with.” The Gallery does have a sign warning visitors about the adult content.

As for the decision to remove the video, Sullivan said most critics raising concerns about it had never seen it.

“We firmly believe the video was appropriate in the context of the exhibit,” Sullivan maintained.

He added that the video was never intended to make a religious statement, but was aimed at expressing the suffering of those living with AIDS. However, Sullivan and others worried that the video would keep visitors from coming to see the rest of the exhibit.

“We don’t want to offend anyone unnecessarily,” Sullivan said, adding, “It was probably a prudent step just to take that one piece out.”

The video was pulled Tuesday, after Congressmen John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Eric Cantor, R-Va., issued statements characterizing the exhibit as “outrageous” and calling Smithsonian taxpayer funding into issue. While taxpayer dollars are used to maintain and run buildings like the National Portrait Gallery, Sullivan says the actual cost of the Hide/Seek exhibit itself is being covered with private funding.