The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has announced that it will award $100,000 to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian — ending an eight-year-old ban on providing money to the Smithsonian Institution.
The money will go to a retrospective exhibition of work by the painter Oscar Howe, who was a member of the Yanktonai Dakota tribe. The show will be at the National Museum of the American Indian’s New York facility.
The ban was instituted in 2010 when the National Portrait Gallery removed David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in My Belly” from its exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” because of political pressure. The Warhol Foundation had supported the show and saw the removal of the artwork as an example of “blatant censorship” that the then-secretary of the foundation, Wayne Clough, called “unconscionable.”
In addition to licensing Warhol’s work and supporting scholarly research, the Warhol Foundation also provides grants to arts organizations.
“We believe that the ban has had its intended effect of promoting freedom of artistic expression at the national level,” Joel Wachs, the foundation’s president, said in the statement announcing the repeal. “The Smithsonian has also demonstrated a strong track record of highlighting underrepresented artists over the past eight years, which aligns well with the Foundation’s core values.”
Mr. Wachs said that the Foundation has reviewed its decision every year, but until now hadn’t been comfortable reversing it. “We thought that a period of time has to go by before you know whether someone has really changed,” he said in an interview on Friday. The Oscar Howe show, he added, came along and seemed like a perfect example of what the foundation wants to support.
Wojnarowicz’s video came under fire from the Catholic League and members of the House of Representatives for its perceived disrespect to Christianity. One image — of ants crawling on a crucifix — was singled out for criticism. At the time, Martin E. Sullivan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, said that the aim of the work was to articulate “the reality of the suffering of the AIDS epidemic in Latin American culture,” not to criticize or demean Christianity. Nevertheless, the piece was removed from the exhibition. (Wojnarowicz died at age 37 of AIDS-related complications in 1992.)
The Oscar Howe retrospective will include approximately 75 of his paintings, some of which have never been publicly exhibited. Mr. Howe, who died in 1983, was a pioneer of contemporary Native American art whose style combines abstraction with passionate, expressive dynamism. The remainder of the Warhol Foundation’s fall 2018 grants will be announced next week.
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