At N.Y. event, 'Hide/Seek' curators try to keep art on agenda, but can't avoid culture war





NEW YORK - The Catholic League's William Donohue, the man who scared the Smithsonian into pulling a David Wojnarowicz video from a highly acclaimed exhibition of gay and lesbian portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery, takes a pragmatic view of the culture wars.

"You have to know when to step on the gas and when to step on the brakes," Donohue said Wednesday afternoon from his 34th-floor office in midtown Manhattan. Which is one reason that he was going a for a beer that night, and not planning on attending a conversation at the New York Public Library featuring the exhibition's curators, Jonathan Katz and David C. Ward....

At the standing-room-only Public Library event - which was scheduled long before the Smithsonian controversy erupted into what many fear is a new and volatile chapter in the museum culture wars after a decade-long hiatus - it was clear that Ward and Katz's work is just beginning. The challenge was to talk about art when everybody else wanted to talk about controversy, and yet not duck the controversy, when the Smithsonian is being accused of caving quickly, cravenly and foolishly to political pressure....

Which is why Katz and Ward tried to give an art history lecture, working their way through the show, slide by slide, starting with 19th-century icon Walt Whitman and a racy painting of boxers by Thomas Eakins. They barely made it to the Abstract Expressionists, many of whom were homosexual and coded their work with complex references to desire for each other, before the clock ticked toward question-and-answer time. And then the controversy was unavoidable....


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