Saved! ‘Offensive’ crucifix video will remain part of Brooklyn Museum show

Nude awakening! Brooklyn Museum shows work that was banned in D.C.
Courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O. W Gallery, The Fales Library and Special Collections/ New York University

The show will go on — ants and crucifix be damned.

The Brooklyn Museum will retain a controversial video featuring ants crawling on a crucifix as part of a larger show on American portrait art that opens Nov. 18 — despite calls from the Brooklyn Diocese to remove the video on the grounds that it will be “offensive to many people of faith.”

The four-minute Super-8 video, “A Fire in My Belly” by late artist David Wojnarowicz, contains an arresting 12-second clip of the picnic pests crawling over a wooden sculpture of Jesus on the cross.

In a statement released on Friday, a museum spokeswoman said its exhibit, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” will include the video with all 104 other works because the institution remains dedicated to “freedom of expression” and “presenting differing views which fosters greater understanding and tolerance.”

“The [Wojnarowicz] video is an expression of the artist’s outrage at indifference to human suffering during the early years of the AIDS crisis,” said museum spokeswoman Sally Williams. “We strongly encourage anyone who has concerns about ‘Hide/Seek’ to visit the museum and view it in person.”

Last week, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio sent a letter to the museum’s trustees and its director, urging them to pull the video from its exhibition because of its crucifixion imagery — just as the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery did when the exhibit was presented in Washington last year.

There's also this Tom Murphy photo…
Photo provided by the Brooklyn Museum

Despite DiMarzio’s letter, the Catholic League said it would not demonstrate at the Brooklyn Museum’s grand opening next week despite its opposition, the Daily News reported.

That hasn’t stopped Wojnarowicz’s allies from slamming the church for taking an “incendiary, radical view” and attempting to intimidate the museum.

“This is an important museum exhibition about the history of gay artists and American portraiture, and to focus on this tiny litle piece taken out of context is misguided,” said Wendy Olsoff, owner of the PPOW Gallery, which represents Wojnarowicz’s estate. “The is not about religion, it’s about homosexuality — and the church needs to come to terms with that.”

A parade of public officials is also defending the museum and its exhibition — including Borough President Markowitz and Mayor Bloomberg, whose office said the museum’s freedoms should be honored above all else.

“New York is the freest city in the freest country in the world, which is why those who are upset by this exhibit have every right to speak their mind,” said Bloomberg spokeswoman Julie Wood.

“Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 638-5000], opens on Nov. 18. Museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. For info, visit www.brooklymuseum.org.

And this George Platt Lynes photo.
Photo provided by the Brooklyn Museum

Reach reporter Aaron Short at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2547.