Art & Design


An exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington has sparked debate over federal funding for the arts. The exhibit is called "Hide/Seek." It features artists and cultural figures who were gay or believed to be gay, people like Walt Whitman.


His poems are widely accepted today, but a more recent work is not. It's a four-minute video.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Woman: And he that touches the flesh of the unclean becomes unclean.

MONTAGNE: The artist made the video about his partner's death of AIDS-related illness. This video includes a shot of a crucifix crawling with ants.

A lay organization called the Catholic League protested.

Mr. BILL DONOHUE (President, Catholic League): The Smithsonian would never have their little ants crawling all over an image of Mohammed.

INSKEEP: That's the Catholic League's President Bill Donohue, who has some support in Congress. Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor urged the Portrait Gallery to shut down the whole show, calling it an outrageous use of taxpayer's money.

MONTAGNE: The exhibit was actually funded by private donors, but after a flood of emails, gallery Director Martin Sullivan removed the video.

Mr. MARTIN SULLIVAN (Director, National Portrait Gallery): You know, I'm a practicing Christian. And I think the members of the Portrait Gallery staff collectively understand that we have a real privilege to work here, and to try to represent as best we can the diversity of American life.

MONTAGNE: But the removal of the offending artwork may not have ended the debate. Catholic League President Donohue says he wants Congress to eliminate all federal funding for the Smithsonian.

Mr. DONOHUE: Why should the working class pay for the leisure of the elite, when in fact, one of the things that the working class likes to do for leisure is to go to professional wrestling? And if I suggested that we should have federal funds for professional wrestling to lower the cost of a ticket, people would think I'm insane. I don't go to museums any more than most Americans do.

INSKEEP: The Smithsonian says about 30 million Americans each year visit its museums, whose exhibits range from obscure paintings to space capsules, to the original Star-Spangled Banner.

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