A major sponsor of The Smithsonian’s Hide/Seek has threatened to revoke all future funding if the institution does not return David Wojnarowicz's video “A Fire in My Belly” to display. Yesterday, The Warhol Foundation issued a statement indicating they would withdraw further support to the institute, having thus far given more than $375,000. “A Fire in My Belly” was removed by Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, after leading Republicans and The Catholic League, a right wing activist group, complained that the show was a waste of taxpayer dollars and “hate speech.”
It’s not surprising that a major exhibition funder has voiced its disapproval — why give money to institutions if their actions don’t support the work they’ve invested in? Still, the politics of returning the video to the exhibition are such that the Smithsonian is unlikely to budge. The response would likely be interpreted by the Right as goading, and on both sides as an institution easily swayed and directionless. I’m sure The Warhol Foundation is aware of this, which is why their position should be seen as an attempt to shape future debates as opposed to a move designed to change the course of the present. The money may not be a lot compared to what the feds offer, but the possibility of losing funding sources on the left is now stronger, and the damage done to the Smithsonian’s public image significant.