Arts Desk

Mapplethorpe Foundation Withdraws Support for Smithsonian Exhibitions

Robert Mapplethorpe, "Louise Bourgeois," 1982

Taking a page from the Andy Warhol Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation says that it will suspend all funding for future Smithsonian exhibitions unless David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in My Belly is reinstated in the "Hide/Seek" exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

Trustees for the Mapplethorpe Foundation met on Wednesday and adopted a unanimous resolution to support the Warhol Foundation's stance.

The decision reflects an about-face of sorts for the Mapplethorpe Foundation, whose immediate response to the censorship of Wojnarowicz's video was measured. Back on Dec. 2, Mapplethorpe Foundation president Michael Ward Stout said that his organization would support future National Portrait Gallery programming, despite the controversy.

"The Mapplethorpe Foundation does not have an agenda. Not artists with AIDS, not LGBT rights," Stout told the City Paper on Dec. 2. "We support photography that is good."

Why the change of heart?

According to Stout, the board came to its decision "for many reasons."

"One, we support the Warhol Foundation's position. We weren't the major funding donor, but we feel strongly about the decisions made by the Smithsonian," said Stout. The Warhol Foundation gave $100,000 for "Hide/Seek," while the Mapplethorpe Foundation gave $10,000.

Stout clarified that the Mapplethorpe Foundation board was not staking out the same nuclear-option posture taken by the Warhol Foundation. He said that, for example, the National Portrait Gallery has worked with the Mapplethorpe Foundation on an effort to acquire at least two Mapplethorpe portraits: a self-portrait and a photograph of artist Louise Bourgeois. The present controversy would not impede progress toward that acquisition.

"I don't think we could say 'never.' Time passes. We support programs at the Corcoran, for example," Stout said, referring to the Corcoran's 1989 decision to cancel a show of foundation namesake Robert Mapplethorpe. "In this climate, at this moment, we would not consider Smithsonian grant requests."

ARTINFO critic Tyler Green, for one, has criticized the Warhol Foundation for its aggressive ultimatum.

Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas said that the Smithsonian Institution has not been contacted by the Mapplethorpe Foundation and that the Office of the Secretary for the Smithsonian therefore had no response.

Given the present controversy, one can only hope that the National Portrait Gallery is looking to acquire this 1982 Mapplethorpe portrait of a cheeky Bourgeois clutching her 1968 sculpture, Fillette.

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