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Correction to This Article
This article on a controversial exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery incorrectly referred to the Cybercast News Service, which posted a story online about the artwork in question, as the Christian News Service
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Transformer Gallery shows Wojnarowicz video banned by National Portrait Gallery

After the Catholic League complained about a video by David Wojnarowicz containing ants crawling on a cross -- part of the sexuality-themed exhibit "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" -- the National Portrait Gallery removed the piece. Now Logan Circle gallery Transformer is playing the video in their display window. Transformer art director Victoria Reis speaks about their reasons for quickly putting the video back up for display, and the mistake the Smithsonian museum made in bowing down to outside pressures.

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Instead, Moran argued, the Portrait Gallery buckled under pressure from critics looking to exploit the artwork - only 11 seconds of which was considered objectionable - for personal and political gain.

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Himself a Catholic, Moran said that Catholic League President William Donohue, who "implicitly condoned all the pedophilia that was going on in the church," should be using his energies to object to much more serious offenses against humanity.

Incoming speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) yesterday echoed Donohue's salvo, adding that the exhibit was a misuse of taxpayer dollars.

For Moran, that was an ominous sign.

"This new Congress has a bull's-eye on arts funding," he said. "I don't think there is any question they are going to target the NEA, the NEH and anything else that funds art."

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops had no position on the video in question, nor did she expect any position in the future. The Catholic Church usually does not get involved in local disputes but occasionally the Vatican's official news outlet, L'Osservatore Romano, weighs in on art matters. It didn't think much of Paduan artist Maurizio Cattelan's piece "Nona Ora," which portrayed Pope John Paul II crushed by a meterorite.

The Catholic League's Donohue continued to express his outrage despite the work's removal. In an interview, he recalled how he first heard of the exhibit when a New York Post reporter called him Monday night for comment. He then reviewed an article posted online by the Christian News Service, watched Wojnarowicz's video on YouTube for himself on Tuesday, and decided immediately to issue a statement deeming the work "hate speech." He also sent letters to the House and Senate, asking the appropriations committees to reconsider public funding of the Smithsonian Institution. He has not viewed the other works in "Hide/Seek."

"I am so tired of dealing with the artistic community and their hate speech against Christians, because every time this happens I'm told [the art] is complex and a matter of interpretation," says Donohue, who emphasized that he never asked for the video to be removed. "Look, if someone puts a swastika on a synaogue, that's not complex and not open to interpretation. . . . When the Smithsonian - with this prestige and federal funding - offends Catholics, I can't pretend it hasn't happened. The more established the source of the offense, the more likely it is we have to respond."

The reaction to and removal of the video stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the artist's intent, according to Wendy Olsoff, owner of P·P·O·W Gallery in New York, which represents the estate of David Wojnarowicz.

"David puts ants over coins, dollar bills, toy guns, toy soldiers, eyes - he used ants and animal imagery all the time," Olsoff says. "David believed the imagery of ants' society was a parallel to human society. He was trying to change our mythologies about capitalism and institutionalized religion, and trying to make a comparison to animals. It was not about Christ. It was just about institutionalized religion."

Olsoff says she will issue a press release that points to Wojnarowicz's writings, which she hopes will provide proper context. Besides planning to show the full 30-minute video starting Thursday, the Transformer Gallery is organizing a campaign to reinstate it in the exhibit. Organizers are drafting a letter to the Smithsonian, meeting Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Transformer Gallery, and marching in protest to the National Portrait Gallery, according to Alefantis.

The museum staff on Wednesday was re-programming the kiosk that played the Wojnarowicz video. A seven-minute cut from "Pink Narcissus," about the fantasies of a young male prostitute, directed in 1971 by James Bidgood, will be ready soon.

Freelance writer Jessica Dawson and staff writers Dan Zak and Jason Horowitz contributed to this article.

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