Art Critics: The Religious Right Wants to Decide What Everyone Gets to See

Church & State, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Art Critics: The Religious Right Wants to Decide What Everyone Gets to See


The new Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is off to a bad start. Even before assuming their new positions, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor demanded that the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., remove portions of an exhibit that some Religious Right activists deemed offensive.

The Smithsonian Institution, which oversees the gallery, immediately caved and pulled a short video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz. The segment in question showed some ants crawling on a crucifix. It was all of 11 seconds long.

Boehner and Cantor acted at the behest of William Donohue, the garrulous president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Donohue insisted that the video was anti-Catholic. He had no evidence for this - he just had an opinion. That was enough for the new GOP leaders.

But what if Donohue's opinion is ill-informed? Perhaps Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992, was making a comment about the suffering endured by that disease's victims. Christians believe that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross - and it's likely those torments included insects crawling on his skin.

Yet, according to Donohue, it's forbidden to depict this in art. Why? Because Donohue doesn't care for it.

And therein lies one of the great overlooked threats of censorship: We all get dragged down to the level of the dense, the dim and the deceived. …

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