I asked him to tell me his impressions of the art show. First, he texted:
Because of the fracas over DW [David Wojnarowicz], I had the impression that H/S was all AIDS-era portraiture. It spans more than a century. It's hard to shake the feeling, as you're moving through it, that you're headed toward calamity—the onset of the AIDS epidemic, the deaths of so many, the shattering of what was an emerging world.
There is one heartrending piece at the apex of the space—AA Bronson's Felix, June 5, 1994—but you can feel the hole left in the exhibit by the removal of DW's video. There's a missing piece, a missing sense of mourning and awareness of impending death.
But as performance art, man, this can't be beat. The absence of the piece—and how it was removed, and why it was removed—echoes through the room.
- AA Bronson's Felix, June 5, 1994. The painting the Smithsonian won't take off display, despite requests from the artist.
If Felix were removed, the experience of the whole exhibition would be "hugely different," he believes.
There was that stage in the AIDS crisis when everything that had been built in gay culture really cratered. The AIDS epidemic had been going for 12 yeras without any progress, any breakthroughs, and it just seemed like there was no way up and out. Everything in gay culture in the 20th century was moving toward that moment. So for that not to be there—I mean, there are lots of pretty depictions of people about to die, even the Wojnarowicz photographs and Mapplethorpe holding a skull, but in Felix there is no allegory, no silver gelatin print. It is the punch in the face that the whole thing requires.
The Keith Haring painting is gorgeous. It made me cry. That's what the AIDS epidemic did. It cut down all these people in the prime of their creative lives. All these unfinished and never-started works are right there in that piece by Haring, but again, it's pretty.
For guys who are my age or older, to have to look into the face of Felix in order to get there, obviously that's why they included that and David Wojnarowicz's video. Assholes. Assholes for pulling the video out, assholes for leaving the other thing up.
Bronson wanted Felix out because he no longer felt the space of the show was safe in some ways. How do you feel in that space today?
I feel like the space is less important than the people in it, and Bill Donohue isn't in it, and Eric Cantor isn't in there. It looks like it's all fags and nice, polite, middle-aged ladies and older ladies, so I don't think that the space is hostile. I think the space is exonerated by the people in it.
- Wojnarowicz's photograph Untitled (Face in the Dirt). Dan likes W's photographs better than the video.
Yes. Ab-so-fruit-ly... I remember when they were pulling Mapplethorpe off the walls and arresting the director of the museum in Cincinnati. We can't be pulled back into that.
You either have the stomach for the fight that comes with art, or you don't, and if you don't, get out.
After we talked by phone, Savage went outside to see the censored video in the trailer the ejected iPad protesters set up, calling it a museum of censored art. Savage texted:
Watched video in cold trailer. Person standing next to me freaking out the whole time over sewing-mouth-shut bits.
Honestly...video doesn't do much for/to me. Agitpropish, chanting awful. Like his photos much more.
Also, shouldn't the Aztec community be upset? And PETA? I think he killed a cockroach. Puppeteers also should be upset.
Look for a new wave of protests.