Many of us might not think of art as protest, but by mounting “Hide/Seek” in full, Tacoma Art Museum is the latest in a chain of art supporters around the country protesting threats to freedom of artistic speech.
After one month of its initial showing at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., in late 2010, “Hide/Seek” became a target for local conservative politicians and high-ranking Catholics. They were angry about the video “Fire in My Belly” by the late David Wojnarowicz. It shows rapid cuts between images of death, societal destruction, oppression and religious symbolism such as ants crawling over a crucifix. After pressure and threats of funding cuts, the gallery removed the work, sparking protests in the streets of New York and museums around the country, which showed the video in support. The show was remounted in 2011 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and it and the National Portrait Gallery experienced a big increase in visitors during the show’s run.
“Hide/Seek” wasn’t intended to travel. Rock Hushka, TAM’s senior curator, was present at the opening and protests and worked closely with the show’s curator, Jonathan Katz, on the upcoming TAM show “Art AIDS America.” At the same time, director Stephanie Stebich, who knew BMA’s director professionally, called to ask whether the show could be recomposed in Tacoma – the only West Coast venue.
Stebich is expecting protests and has prepped staff and the Tacoma police and fire departments in case there’s any trouble. When “Hide/Seek” was announced last year, the museum received negative letters, although “outweighed by the positive 10 to one,” Stebich said.
“I respect the right for people to express their opinion as long as it’s within the bounds of safety,” Stebich said. “We’re expressing our opinion in presenting this show.”
Rosemary Ponnekanti, staff writer