David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly” made national news this winter when Catholic groups and conservative politicians successfully called for its removal from an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
The film, made in 1986-87, depicts the suffering of an AIDS patient and features ants crawling on a crucifix. Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992 from AIDS complications, was celebrated in the New York art world, and his contemporaries are not taking this censorship lightly. Figures from the NYC art world rallied to the work’s defense in December, denouncing the Smithsonian for caving to partisan pressure.
The latest salvo in defense of Wojnarowicz’s legacy is a show at Chelsea’s PPOW gallery, which aims to clarify what the film means and to present his work in the context of his spirituality.
Here’s how the ongoing discussed has evolved:
— Oct. 30: “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” featuring “Fire in My Belly,” opens at the National Portrait Gallery.
— Nov. 30: The Catholic League deems “Fire” anti-Christian. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and others call for the piece’s removal.
— Dec. 1: “Fire” is removed.
— Dec. 4 - Jan. 23: New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art screens “Fire.”
— Dec. 6: A New York Times editorial condemns the Smithsonian’s decision as censorship.
— Dec. 19: Hundreds march up NYC’s Fifth Avenue in protest.
— Jan. 13: MoMA acquires and starts screening “Fire” as part of “Contemporary Art from the Collection.”
— Jan. 18: The Moving Image Art Fair chooses a still from a different Wojnarowicz work as a promotional image in a show of solidarity with the artist.
— March 3: PPOW gallery presents “Spirituality: An Exhibition of Selected Work by David Wojnarowicz,” which includes “Fire.”
The PPOW exhibit continues through April 9. 535 W. 22nd St., third floor, 212.647.1044