Museum of Censored Art Honored for Showing Gay Artist's Work

On June 25, the American Library Association will present the John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award for intellectual freedom to Mike Blasenstein and Michael Dax Iacovone, creators of the Museum of Censored Art. The Museum of Censored Art was a one-month-only project started by Blasenstein and Iacovone in response to the removal of a video from an exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Blasenstien and Iacovone erected their temporary museum right in front of the National Portrait Gallery, where they showed the censored video to nearly 6,500 visitors.

The video, “A Fire in My Belly,” was created by the late openly-gay artist David Wojnarowicz, whose life was tragically cut short by AIDS in 1992. Wojnarowicz’s video was originally part of the National Portrait Gallery’s LGBT-themed art exhibit “Hide/Seek” before it was banned by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough. The video famously features an 11-second segment in which ants crawl over a crucifix.

Shortly after its censorship by the Smithsonian, “A Fire in My Belly” was purchased New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where it is currently on view. MoMA’s label on the video describes Wojnarowicz’s life and work, saying, “Wojnarowicz [was] among the many artists and activists who worked to shatter the silence around AIDS in the 1980s...A Fire in My Belly is a meditation on mortality and suffering, referring, often in graphic detail, to death, social inequality, faith, and desire.”

The Smithsonian’s actions in removing the film sparked a national conversation about censorship. The Corcoran Museum recently held a daylong forum on censorship, in which Blasenstein and Iacovone participated. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, in direct response to the Smithsonian, created an exhibit on controversial art. MoMA also included information about the Smithsonian’s actions in its exhibition of Wojnarowicz’s video.

GLAAD has previously discussed the Smithsonian's decision to censor Wojnarowicz's video, and its actions thereafter. GLAAD joins the American Library Association in applauding Mike Blasenstein and Michael Dax Iacovone for their commitment to ensuring that the work of this innovative LGBT artist, who worked to end censorship and silence in his own lifetime, received the kind of exhibition it deserves.

Issues: