Monday, March 28, 2011

"The Culture Wars Are Back"

"The Culture Wars Are Back": A Summit at the Corcoran Draws Lessons From the Smithsonian's Wojnarowicz Censorship Scandal

By Ben Davis

The National Portrait Gallery's "Hide/Seek" exhibition may have closed, but the controversy around Smithsonian director G. Wayne Clough's decision to remove a work by David Wojnarowicz from that show simmers on. The Smithsonian has said that it will host a forum on lessons learned from the dispute in April — details have not been fleshed out — but this past weekend, the Corcoran Gallery of Art hosted an all-day symposium on the issues raised by the affair, titled "Culture Wars: Then and Now." The location, of course, is highly symbolic, since the Corcoran was ground zero for an earlier era of tussles between the religious right and the avant garde. And Saturday's key-note speaker was Yale art school dean Robert Storr, who declared that "the culture wars are back," according to the Washington Post.

The symposium drew some 100 attendees, and in addition to Storr included such '90s culture-war veterans as Dennis Barrie, the former director of the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center who was charged with obscenity for showing Robert Mapplethorpe, and Jane Livingston, who quit her position as associate curator at the Corcoran over the Mappelthorpe scandal in 1989. It also brought together a range of figures from the trenches of the recent National Portrait Gallery protests, including Mike Blasenstein and Michael Dax Iacovone, the activists who opened a temporary Museum of Censored Art to show Wojnarowicz's work outside the NPG, and Orameh Bagheri of the anti-censorship group L.A. Raw, which spearheaded some creative demonstrations against Clough when he appeared in L.A.

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