NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A controversial video artwork that was withdrawn from an exhibition following complaints by a Catholic group and Republican members of Congress will now go on display at the Museum of Modern Art.
Announcing the acquisition, the museum said American artist David Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992, was “one of the most influential artists to have emerged from New York in the 1980s.”
An excerpt from the 13-minute video entitled “A Fire in My Belly” by Wojnarowicz was withdrawn from an exhibition in November at the National Portrait Gallery, a Smithsonian museum in Washington, after Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, described it as anti-Christian “hate speech.”
Donohue said he was offended by a short sequence in the video that shows ants crawling over Christ on a crucifix.
House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Eric Cantor also urged the Smithsonian to pull the exhibit.
The Smithsonian’s decision angered many in the art world, who accused it of stifling artistic freedom.
“We endorse the position of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which states that freedom of expression is essential to the health and welfare of our communities and our nation,” the Museum of Modern Art said in an email to Reuters.
The museum said the artist made the piece after being diagnosed with HIV, saying “it combines footage from a number of sources that refer — often in graphic detail — to death, social inequality, faith, and desire.”
“While we expect a range of reactions to the piece, they will not affect the Museum’s decision to display it in what is an appropriate context,” the museum said.
Asked about the museum’s decision, Donohue said: “It has decided to assault Christian sensibilities by hosting the vile video.”
The museum said “A Fire in My Belly” will go on display on Thursday as part of a collection of art made during the AIDS crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune