Toronto artist AA Bronson demands his work be returned to Canada after Smithsonian caves to pressure from Christian groups

Toronto artist AA Bronson demands his work be returned to Canada after Smithsonian caves to pressure from Christian groups

Acclaimed Toronto artist AA Bronson is demanding that the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., return a piece of his art. Bronson is the last surviving founding member of the seminal Toronto-based art collective General Idea, which gained international acclaim for its installations and performances about the AIDS crisis and other social themes. The request is an act of protest against the American gallery, which recently removed a controversial piece of art from its current exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.

The Portrait Gallery, which is run by the Smithsonian, removed an 11-minute segment from the video The Fire in My Belly, by New York artist David Wjonarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992. The segment in question shows a bloody cross crawling with ants. The gallery had received complaints from the Catholic league and various right-wing organizations that it was “anti-Christian.” The gallery has offered some pretty flimsy explanations for the removal, saying the attention the piece was receiving was distracting from the show as a whole.

"Felix, June 5, 1992" by AA Bronson

Bronson says the decision amounts to censorship and is demanding that his portrait-size photograph “Felix, June 5, 1994” be returned to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, which owns the piece. The director of Canada’s National Gallery, Marc Mayer, is supporting Bronson and has made a request on behalf of the National Gallery that the Portrait Gallery return the work. Initially the gallery refused Bronson’s request to return the portrait, because, according to a museum spokesperson, they wish to “keep the exhibition intact.” Irony noted.

Bronson’s not the only one who’s angry. The removal has sparked protest in arts communities across the U.S., and Sunday afternoon at the Met in New York saw hundreds of protesters rallying for the video to be restored. In the meantime, galleries across the U.S. have taken it upon themselves to show the video in its entirety.

The Portrait Gallery says it will make a decision on Bronson’s piece early this week.

• Canadian artist demands photo back from U.S. gallery [CBC]
• Canadian artist wants work back after D.C. gallery pulls video from gay exhibit [Globe and Mail]
• Smithsonian censorship; Bronson wants out [Toronto Star]
• Canadian Museum Backs Smithsonian Protest [NYT]
• Protesters at Met Rally for Artwork [WSJ]