Walker Art Center stokes “Fire in my Belly”

Walker Art Center Director Olga Viso traveled to D.C. earlier this week to tour the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. The exhibition is the ongoing source of controversy, after public reaction to the video “Fire in my Belly” prompted the Smithsonian to pull the video from the exhibition.

Viso, a former Smithsonian curator and museum director (of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), says the Walker will screen various versions of the film “Fire in my Belly” daily at the Walker Art Center later this week (see update below), pending arrangements with the artist’s estate. In a statement on the Walker’s website, Viso says:

Hide/Seek was organized by the NPG to “show how art has reflected changing attitudes toward sexual identity”… In every regard, the [National Portrait Gallery] should be applauded for organizing, mounting, and presenting this groundbreaking, scholarly exhibition and supporting the curators’ well argued thesis that a powerful artistic and cultural legacy has been “hidden in plain sight for more than a century.” Yet the NPG’s and Smithsonian’s surprising decision to remove a key work from the exhibition a month after its opening undermines this thesis as well as the premise and curatorial integrity of the exhibition in alarming ways. Indeed this action serves to sublimate or “hide” the very thing the exhibition attempts to make visible.

Last week the American Association of Museum Directors Association of Art Museum Directors, under the leadership of Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Kaywin Feldman, also condemned the actions of the Smithsonian.

The video in question, it should be noted, is easily found on YouTube:

Update: The Walker will screening the film beginning tomorrow through December 30 from 11:30-noon in the Lecture Room; and on Thursday evenings at 8:30 pm. It will be screening the original 11-minute film and the artist’s excerpted 7-minute version, as well as the 4-minute version that was shown as part of the National Portrait Gallery exhibition.

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