Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture opened at the Tacoma Art Museum in mid-March, bringing the controversial GLBT-centric exhibit to T-Town ... of all places. Largely a collection of gay- and lesbian-themed portraits dating back to the 1800s, Hide/Seek achieved notoriety in 2010 when it took up residence at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery and quickly infuriated Christians with David Wojnarowicz's video, A Fire in My Belly - which takes the liberty of depicting Mexican Dia de los Muertos shrine featuring a crucifix crawling with ants (gasp!).
Sunday, The Seattle Times ran a lengthy review of Hide/Seek by Michael Upchurch, who one can only hope was reimbursed for the gas expended traveling to Tacoma. While The Smithsonian bowed to pressure and removed A Fire in My Belly, the film is proudly included in TAM's presentation of Hide/Seek - which marks the exhibit's only West Coast stop. In fact, as The Times notes, TAM was the only museum to express an interest in showing Hide/Seek, and the exhibition came to Tacoma only after none of the Smithsonian's "peer institutions" wanted it.
While focusing on the controversial aspects of A Fire in My Belly is natural, Upchurch notes:
The fuss over the Wojnarowicz piece obscured the range of work in the exhibit. The show encompasses more than a century's worth of paintings, drawings, photographs and videos. Mostly figurative but occasionally abstract, the works make it clear that era-specific style is a nonissue. Instead, gay sensibility is the point, with an accent on the artistic complications and possibilities that come with belonging to a minority that can camouflage itself within the mainstream.
Hide/Seek is impressive and varied, and certainly worth any art or history lover's attention.
Though Upchurch is right, and A Fire in My Belly and the controversy that surrounded the film's stay at the Smithsonian shouldn't steal too much of the spotlight, it's still worth looking back on some of the ridiculous and unfortunate soundbites that poured in from Christian lawmakers back in 2010.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) told Fox News:
"This is a museum that gets $5.8 million in taxpayer dollars and in the middle of a high deficit, 15 million unemployed Americans, they decide to have money to spend like this. This is a museum that, by the way, has next to it a display of the American presidents, on the other side, Elvis, and then you go through this -- which is really perverted, sick stuff -- ashes of an AIDS victim, in a self-portrait, eating himself. Male nudity, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her own breast - lots of really kinky and really questionable kind of art."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also went on the attack. Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith was widely quoted as saying, "Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves [in]."
Both Boehner and Cantor called for the exhibits removal from the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.
As icing on the cake, Cantor's objections cited Christmas, with the lawmaker calling it, "an outrageous use of taxpayer money," and deeming it, "an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season."
Nearly two years later, the accusations sound just as absurd.