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Tacoma Art Museum to show controversial gay/lesbian portrait show in 2012

Post by Rosemary Ponnekanti / The News Tribune on March 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
March 15, 2011 9:39 am
David Wojnarowicz, "Fire in my Belly" (film). Image courtesy PPOW Gallery.

It looks like Tacoma can handle what Washington, D.C. can’t – at least in terms of controversial art.

Tacoma Art Museum is collaborating with the Brooklyn Museum to remount the acclaimed and controversial art show “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” which opened at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery last fall and closed last month. The show explores gay and lesbian themes in American portraiture, and sparked controversy around the country for pulling one work, David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly,” from the show after complaints from Republican senators and religious conservatives. The video included an image of ants crawling across a plastic crucifix.

The collaboration, recently blogged in the New York Times, came about when TAM director Stephanie Stebich, who had been talking with Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman, asked chief curator Rock Hushka if he could remount the show quickly. It had not originally been intended to tour, and the timeframe is much faster than the usual museum method of booking and organizing shows years in advance. The two museums are currently working to finalize the collaboration and firm arrangements with lenders.

Hushka has been working for five years on another show, “Art AIDS America,” with Jonathan Katz, one of the curators of “Hide/Seek”; they hope to bring the show to Tacoma in 2014. Hushka’s own artistic work also touches on gay/lesbian issues, with the bloodstained embroidered linen panels currently on show at Bellevue Art Museum a testimony to the loss and pain of AIDS victims. He has also been instrumental in showing other provocative works at TAM, including photographic works mocking Hitler by Jim Riswold.

Hushka says that if all goes to plan, “Hide/Seek” will open in Brooklyn by the end of this year, and come to Tacoma in 2012. Both venues will display the show in its entirety, including Wojnarowicz’s works.

So what does this mean for Tacoma?

“It makes people pay attention, I can tell you!” says Hushka. But in the context of other TAM shows about identity, such as “The Great American Thing,” Chuck Close and the current Norman Rockwell exhibit, “Hide/Seek” is, says Hushka, “just another way we’re growing as an institution.”

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