Arts Desk

Acquiring Censored Wojnarowicz Video, MoMA Is Late to the Party

Tyler Green reports that the Museum of Modern Art has acquired David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in My Belly. [UPDATE: In fact it was the New York Times's Kate Taylor who got the story first.] I don't know that I follow how that is the "strongest institutional response" yet to the censorship of the work by Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution G. Wayne Clough, except insofar as MoMA is a powerful institution. Yet it is their relative might that casts their late entry into context. At one time the world's best arbiter of bleeding-edge art, MoMA arrives to this party late. Compare its response to that of the nimble institutions whose boards mobilized for quick action to show Wojnarowicz or otherwise pressure the Smithsonian.

Still, money talks. An acquisition is a strong rejoinder to censorship, a more official register of complaint than had the museum merely agreed to show the piece. And MoMA's decision to acquire it late means that it has decided that the work is at least as significant historically as it is artistically. This really happened, and MoMA has made certain that people will remember that. Arguably, though, it was the New Museum—the first major art institution to take up the call to show A Fire in My Belly— that led by example and thereby ensured that people knew about the issue in the first place.

Or maybe the greatest institution to thumb its nose at the Smithsonian is the Museum of Censored Art, which as of today, shares an address with the National Portrait Gallery. Manned by Clough's curbside antagonists Michael Blasenstein and Michael Iacovone, the protest trailer opened its doors this morning. TBD's Maura Judkis writes from the opening, which City Paper first reported last week. Given the freezing conditions reported by Judkis, it's Blasenstein and Iacovone who are actually suffering to show their displeasure with Clough's decision.

Clough isn't suffering the winter at all—at least, he won't be next week, when he agrees finally to take questions from the press in sunny Los Angeles.

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