Congressman: Close Tax-Funded Smithsonian Exhibit Featuring Naked Brothers Kissing, Men in Chains--Despite Removal of Ant-Covered Jesus

December 2, 2010 - 3:20 PM


Jack Kingston

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.)

(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said that removing a video with images of ants swarming over Jesus Christ on a crucifix is a “positive” step, but added that this does not mean the controversial exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, featuring images of brothers kissing, genitalia, cremated ashes from an AIDS suicide, and men in chains should continue.

“No, I think it should be closed,” Kingston told CNSNews.com, which first reported on Monday about the “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibit at the federally funded National Portrait Gallery, which is a Smithsonian Institution museum.

“What they are trying to do is have an in-your-face exhibit, and that’s fine and dandy if they’re paying for it with their own nickel,” Kingston said. “But this is funded by tax dollars – partially funded by a private grant, I understand that -- but public money is involved in this, in the facility, in the staff and in the protection of it, the promotion of it,  everything else.”

Kingston said that even with the removal of “A Fire in My Belly” video that showed an ant-covered Christ, mummified humans, bowls of blood, and full frontal male nudity, there are other elements of the show that make it inappropriate for display in a federal institution where families come to see iconic works of arts such as the portraits of U.S. presidents.

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"O'Hara Nude with Boots" painting at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.

“This is an ‘in your face’ exhibit,” Kingston said. “Think about this. You go up there, mom and dad and 3 ½ kids from Peoria, and you look at the Elvis exhibit because it’s fun and you want to show your kids something educational.”

“So you move from Elvis to the presidents of America and the civil rights display and tucked in between we have ‘Hide/Seek,’” Kingston said. “And so now you’re explaining to your 10-year-old what homoerotic art is.”

“When you see these pictures, I mean, two brothers kissing, so not only do you have homosexuality, you have incest,” Kingston said. “Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts. A sadomasochist in bondage and then the cremated ashes of a gay man picture painted to look like him and it was called ‘Charles Devouring Himself.’”

Kingston said federal funds should not be used to subsidize such an exhibit and that he believes the exhibit is in a location at the museum where it will attract visitors.

“In this case, tax dollars are clearly involved, there’s no question tax dollars were involved,” Kingston said. “And, frankly, the placement of it is not random.”

“I think they let the kinky push logic out of the way and they know that,” Kingston said. “I don’t think these are stupid people. I think this is an ‘in your face’ exhibit and ‘aren’t we cool,’ and ‘we’re doing this and not only are we doing something edgy, but you’re paying us for it -- ha, ha.’”

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A crucifix in the video “A Fire in My Belly,” part of the ‘Hide/Seek’ exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The image shows Christ on the cross with ants crawling over his body and face. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“And that’s the kind of arrogance that drives people crazy about Washington, D.C.,” Kingston said. “If it’s such a great exhibit why aren’t they showing it in Springfield, Ill., and taking it on the road and charging people to see this wonderful thing?”

Kingston, who hopes to be chosen by his GOP colleagues in the next Congress to be chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees the funding of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Endowment for the Arts, said he believes the federal budgets for the both entities should be scrutinized.

“When we have 15 million Americans unemployed and a debt of $13.7 trillion, we have to be more responsible stewards of the tax dollars,” Kingston said. “And we’re not paying any government agency that does ridiculous things like this, and I’d include the Pentagon buying a $500 hammer, the National Park Service building a $300,000 toilet -- you may remember that one.”

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Image of naked gay man in “The Pink Narcissus” video at the National Portrait Gallery. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“I think the whole NEA budget and the Smithsonian budget should be looked at,” Kingston said.

Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center (the parent company of CNSNews.com), has said that the exhibit is intentionally offensive and that Congress should investigate both the funding of the Smithsonian and the process that brought an exhibit like ‘Hide/Seek’ to a national museum.

 “This exhibition is a direct assault on Christianity and the timing – the Christmas season! – shows how offensive it is intended to be,” Bozell said in a statement about the exhibit. “This federally funded vulgarity by the Smithsonian Institution must come to an end immediately. How dare anyone use a federal facility – The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery no less – to exhibit such obscene materials.”

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Photo of brothers kissing in Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

"We are also calling on Congress to launch a full investigation into the approval process of the Hide/Seek exhibit,” Bozell said.

While the video of the black ants swarming over Jesus was removed on Tuesday, one of the remaining images in the exhibit include a 1994 photograph (from a triptych) by Lyle Ashton Harris. The “Hide/Seek” catalog says that Harris created the piece in collaboration with his brother, Thomas Allen Harris.

“In this provocative center image, the brothers exchange a passionate kiss as Thomas presses a gun into Lyle’s chest--conjuring the original biblical story of Cain’s treachery toward his brother, Abel,” states the catalog description (p. 265) of the piece.

“The image transgresses many dualisms we use to structure society: male versus female, black versus white, ‘brotherly love’ versus homosexual desire,” reads the description. “And it raises provocative questions surrounding themes of domestic abuse between lovers, perceived violence among black men, and the dangers that come from engaging in an ‘illicit’ love--whether it be from disease, homophobia, or a lethal combination of the two.”

Another piece, “Charles Devouring Himself,” is a plate, used as a canvas/background, upon which an image of “Charles” eating himself is depicted with a paint made from nail polish and the cremated ashes of a man who had AIDS and committed suicide.

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Untitled poster of gay artist Robert Morris wearing Nazi helmet, chains, and spike collar at the National Portrait Gallery.

The catalog description (p. 256) for “Charles Devouring Himself” says the artist Jerome Caja “mixed his friend Charles’s ashes with nail polish to create this image of Charles ingesting his own body. (Charles committed suicide once his life with AIDS became unbearable and recovery was beyond hope.) One can hardly imagine a more gruesome inversion of Goya’s famous painting of Saturn devouring his son. This searing condemnation of America’s willingness to devour its sons during the AIDS crisis is immediately undercut by Jerome’s campy frivolity and cartoonish vulgarity.”

There is a photograph of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, as well as a photograph --  “Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter” -- expressing homosexual sadomasochism by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989).

"In this playful inversion of the classic family photograph, leather-clad Brian Ridley sits in an ornate wingback chair, chained and shackled to his dominant, horsewhip-wielding partner, Lyle Heeter," says the National Portrait Gallery's description of this Mapplethorpe photo.

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Robert Mapplethorpe's "Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter," a sadomasochistoc homosexual photo on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

"Far from submissive, Ridley’s wide-legged stance, upright posture, and direct address to the camera indicate that he willingly acts out his chosen sadomasochistic role," says the description. "The machismo of the couple’s leather gear is undercut by the flamboyance of their living room--replete with an Oriental rug, pewter vases, sculpted lamp and clock, and grasscloth wall covering. That this homosexual S&M ritual takes place in the context of the couple’s 'normal' life (which also includes antique collecting) powerfully challenges what it meansto be a 'normal' or 'domestic' couple."

Also in place at the “Hide/Seek” exhibit is “The Pink Narcissus,” a video released in 1971 by James Bidgood (b. 1933). The National Portrait Gallery’s description for the video says, “The film is a surreal portrait of the youth’s emergence into gay life, his coming out symbolized by the metaphor of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly.”

The video was originally 71 minutes long, and has been edited down to 7 minutes for display in the museum, according to the description.