Saturday, December 25, 2010

Great WaPo Article on Clough, 'Protest Gallery' Progressing

While I'm waiting for my Christmas cookies to bake, I thought I'd share this great article by the Washington Post's Philip Kennicott, who calls for Secretary of the Smithsonian, G. Wayne Clough (the guy who made the decision to censor), to resign:
Curators of the critically acclaimed exhibition, although lamenting the decision, continue to defend the Smithsonian in public, and the National Portrait Gallery's director, Martin Sullivan, continues to bear much of the brunt of the criticism. And yet Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough has gone missing.

Clough's defense of a decision that will almost certainly mark the nadir of his tenure has been limited to internal memos. By withdrawing from the public debate about what has been tactically, strategically and historically a disaster for the institution, he has called into question whether he shares the fundamental values of openness and engagement that should define the Smithsonian.
Permits for 'Protest Gallery' in Process, Optimistic for Opening in Early January

We have been navigating the many agencies within the District of Columbia government that grant (or deny!) the permits we'll need for our temporary 'protest gallery.' This will be physical structure outside the National Portrait Gallery that will make the Wojnarowicz video available to visitors who wish to see the entire Hide/Seek exhibit -- including the work censored by the Smithsonian.

Believe me when I say that the permit process is a daunting one, which is why I haven't had much time to update this blog lately. But DC officials have been very helpful, and we're hoping to have their final OK soon. We'll be making an announcement when that happens, so stay tuned just a little bit longer.

And whatever you celebrate (or don't), have a merry Christmas (or day off)!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Updates, updates...

Sorry for the lack of updates lately -- I've had some family things to take care of, but I've also been very busy working my way through the DC bureaucracy to obtain permits for the Wojnarowicz Gallery of Censored Art.

I don't want to say too much about it quite yet since I'm still dealing with the city, but we still remain determined to shine a light on the Smithsonian's shameful capitulation to lies and ignorance, and we believe this gallery of censored art on the NPG's doorstep is the best way to do it.

More News

Bill Donohue and his Catholic League believe they've already won this battle. In this Washington Post article from today, Donohue is depicted as kicking back with a beer -- literally -- while we scurry around in his wake. Let's not let this be the final word written about this.

In more encouraging news, artist AA Bronson wants his work withdrawn from the Hide/Seek exhibit. Apparently he doesn't want to be seen as supporting a cultural institution that censors. Hopefully more artists will follow suit.

Stay Tuned

I'm hoping to have some news about the temporary Wojnarowicz gallery soon. Please keep checking back for news about next steps and how you can help!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Smithsonian to Free Speech Supporters: Thanks, But We'd Rather Censor

Before we carried out our protest in the National Portrait Gallery, the first thing I (Mike B.) did was to email Smithsonian officials my concerns.

Now I have my answer. Martin Sullivan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, sent a mass email to all those who, like me, wrote to him urging the Smithsonian to reverse its decision to silence gay voices just because a few anti-gay groups mounted a pressure campaign based on hostility and false claims. Read the letter after the jump.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Strength in Numbers -- Sign This Anti-Censorship Petition

People around the country and around the world are taking notice of the Smithsonian's censorship of art.

Let's show the Smithsonian that they can't just cave in to intolerance, issue a statement, and expect the "distraction" to go away.

Please sign this petition to demand that the Smithsonian live up to the ideals of the First Amendment, and to its own mission to "increase and diffuse knowledge."

If you have any friends in the arts or gay communities anywhere in the world, please ask them to sign.

Petition link: Tell the Smithsonian to Stop Censoring Gay Artists

Thursday, December 9, 2010

World Taking Notice of Smithsonian Censorship

The Italian art blog GlobArtMag is alerting international audiences to the Smithsonian's censorship of gay art.

Maybe a little shaming from the world arts community will do the Smithsonian some good.

If you don't know Italian (I sure don't), try running it through Google Translate. Not perfect, but pretty good.

NPG Commissioner Resigns; Integrity Not Dead at Smithsonian is reporting that one of the National Portrait Gallery's commissioners (equivalent to a trustee or director) resigned in protest of the Smithsonian's decision to censor art after a smear campaign by anti gay forces.

I applaud James T. Bartlett's decision to stand up for free speech and resign his post. It's just sad that it had to happen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Help Make the Wojnarowicz Gallery of Censored Art a Reality!


As you may know from our latest press release, we have decided to try another way of bringing back this censored art into -- or rather, close to -- the National Portrait Gallery.

We would like to set up the David Wojnarowicz Memorial Gallery for Censored Art on public property right outside the National Portrait Gallery so people coming to the museum will still have the choice to see all the art from the Hide/Seek exhibition and make up their own minds about it.

Maybe it'll be a big tent, maybe a trailer or an RV, who knows? We sure don't. We're just a web guy and an artist, so we need as much help as we can get. Email or if you think you can help with any of this stuff:

  1. Legal: Getting the appropriate permits
  2. Structure: Anyone got a spare trailer lying around?
  3. Storage(?): If the structure is something that will have to be put up and taken down every day, we'll need a place to store it and the gallery's contents
  4. Power and Heat: It's dark and cold in DC in winter
  5. Equipment and Supplies: Something to play a video, a desk or booth for the person(s) staffing the gallery, information for visitors, a laptop with internet connection, etc.
  6. Website (maybe): A simple outpost on the web, unless another site wants to include the gallery's info
  7. Security: Suffice it to say, there are people out there who don't want the public to see this art
  8. Volunteers! People to run and staff the gallery. If a lot of people just put in a few hours each, we can keep this thing going till Feb. 13.
  9. Anything else?
The anti-gay, anti-free speech forces want this art to go away. Let's disappoint them.

Thank you,
Mike Blasenstein
Michael Dax Iacovone

Press Release: 'Banned' Pair to Erect Gallery of Censored Art on Smithsonian's Doorstep


Media contact: Mike Blasenstein,


So-Called ‘Ant Crucifix’ Video Will Be First Exhibit

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8—The two protesters banned from Smithsonian property for playing a video censored by the National Portrait Gallery inside the museum, today announced their intention to obtain permits to erect a temporary structure outside the Gallery that will display all works of art censored by that institution.

UPDATE: Click here to see how you can help

The structure, named for the artist whose work was removed from the Portrait Gallery last Tuesday by Smithsonian officials bowing to pressure from the anti-gay Catholic League and incoming House Speaker John Boehner, will be called the “David Wojnarowicz Memorial Gallery for Censored Art.”

The new gallery’s first exhibit will be the censored video itself, Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly.”

“Make no mistake: the goal of groups like the Catholic League and their allies in Congress is to hide ideas they don’t like from the public,” said Mike Blasenstein, one of the pair. “They don’t like how a man dying of AIDS in 1980s America expressed his feelings of isolation and abandonment, so they want to make him invisible—again.”

Said Michael Dax Iacovone, a local artist who was also detained and banned from the Smithsonian: “Our hope is to make this ‘gallery of censored art’ a living protest against invisibility. The Wojnarowicz Gallery will not only keep works censored by our government available to the public, but by being physically present at the National Portrait Gallery itself, it will also serve as a visible rebuke of the Smithsonian’s new policy of censorship.”

He added, “And if more works are removed, they won’t have far to travel to go back on display.”

While no permits or premises have yet been secured for the planned Wojnarowicz Gallery, the pair have been reaching out to—and responding to offers of help from—fellow Americans determined to fight censorship in public museums. “The response from people from around the country has been overwhelming,” said Blasenstein. “We're hoping this will be a positive action for people who support free speech to unite around.”

The David Wojnarowicz Memorial Gallery for Censored Art is planned to be erected as soon as possible, and stand until February 13, 2011, the last day that Wojnarowicz’s work was scheduled to be on display in the National Portrait Gallery's “Hide/Seek” exhibit.

In recognition of their ban from Smithsonian property, the pair hopes to ensure the site will be as close to the National Portrait Gallery as possible without encroaching on Smithsonian-owned land.

“This is one museum we want to be able to visit,” they said.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Smithsonian's Shame Now Part of Its Wikipedia Entry

Someone (not me) just updated the National Portrait Gallery's Wikipedia entry to reflect the Hide/Seek censorship controversy and Mike's and my banishment from the Smithsonian.

This shameful act of censorship is nothing but a badge of shame for an institution dedicated to the "increase and diffusion of knowledge." Instead, it has decreased and hidden knowledge from view.

At the end of the day, they've only hurt themselves. I wonder when they're going to recognize that.

Monday, December 6, 2010

UPDATE: Only One of Us is Banned For Life (the Other's Banned for a Year)

OK, so a few blogs have quibbled at our claim to have been "banned for life" from the Smithsonian, although when it was actually happening, the DC police told us only that we'd be banned "for a very long time," and refused to give us copies of the papers we signed. When I read my document, I noted that there was no time limit given, so "for life" seemed like an accurate description to me. today obtained the documents and posted them on their site before I even had a chance to file a FOIA request (thanks TBD!). They confirm that I (Mike Blasenstein, the one with the iPad) am banned without any time limit given -- effectively, forever. Mike Iacovone, the one documenting the protest, was banned for 12 months.

Why the police gave us two different documents to sign, I don't know. But that's the story -- the statement we sent out was as accurate as possible given the information we had at the time. Just wanted to make everything clear.

Anyway, this isn't about what the police did or didn't do, because neither of us really cares. It's about the censorship of an artist who was hounded in life and continues to be hounded in death. That's the real story here, and that's what we're still focused on.

More news...

So glad that more outlets are picking up the story. Just hoping they remember that this is about censorship, and not about us getting detained/banned. That's just censorship too.

LezGetReal - I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love lesbians!

Washington Post (blog) - a post from Blake Gopnik, the art critic who's caught a lot of heat for speaking out against the censorship of David Wojnarowicz

Metro Weekly - Great DC GLBT magazine covers the story

Queerty - Guess me and Mike are a couple of "shit stirrers"

QueerSighted - These guys are too nice!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

News Reports Already Rolling In...

Things sure do move fast in the age of the internets.

Washington City Paper and have both been doing excellent reporting on this whole issue ever since it broke.

The Flyer the Smithsonian Told People They Shouldn't Read

In case anyone's curious, this is the text from the flyer I was holding for people to read. It talked about the art and why I was standing there with an iPad around my neck.

Whenever somebody took one, security guards would swarm them intimidatingly and tell them they were "not allowed" to take it. Everyone who took a flyer gave it back.


I am standing here with this iPad around my neck…
…because politicians and pressure groups don’t want you to see this work of art
…because this work’s detractors have every right to interpret it any way they want
…because so do you

Video of National Portrait Gallery Protest

Our protest and seizure by Smithsonian security, Dec. 4, 2010

Press Release: 'Ant Crucifix' Protesters Banned from Smithsonian for Life After Showing Video Inside Museum, Vow Further Action

Media contact: Mike Blasenstein,

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2010—Two Washington, D.C. residents yesterday were detained by police and permanently banned from all Smithsonian properties after peacefully showing the so-called “Ant Crucifix” video inside the National Portrait Gallery. (Watch the video)

Dec. 6, 2010: UPDATE: Only One of Us Is Banned for Life (the Other Is Banned for a Year)

D.C. resident Mike Blasenstein displayed the work, “A Fire in My Belly” by gay artist David Wojnarowicz on an iPad at the entrance to the Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” exhibition. The video about living with AIDS in the 1980s was removed November 30 by Smithsonian officials after pressure from an anti-gay group and members of Congress. Friend and local artist Michael Dax Iacovone documented the protest.

“I was dumbstruck that this kind of thing could happen in 2010,” said Blasenstein. “I’d never heard of David Wojnarowicz before, but the more I learned about him, the more I realized that the same forces trying to suppress his work and cut his funding when he was alive were still trying to silence him today.

“Suddenly I realized that ‘Silence = Death’ wasn’t a retro relic, but something that made it possible for me as a gay man to enjoy whatever acceptance and protections I have today. I wanted to make sure that this man who died 18 years ago wasn’t swept from view again—especially from an exhibition professing to honor the marginalized,” Blasenstein added.

Less than 10 minutes into their protest, Blasenstein and Iacovone were detained by Smithsonian security. Washington, D.C. police then arrived, and permanently barred both men from setting foot on any Smithsonian-owned property on penalty of immediate arrest. They were then escorted from the premises.

Despite this setback, further actions are being planned. Updates will be posted at