Two activists were detained by police on Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery after showing David Wojnarowicz‘s A Fire in My Belly on an iPad inside the museum. Both activists were ejected and subsequently banned for life from any Smithsonian Institution facility.
D.C. residents Mike Blasenstein, 37, and Mike Iacovone, 35, displayed the Wojnarowicz video at the entrance of “Hide/Seek,” the exhibit from which Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Wayne Clough had the piece removed last week. Guards at the National Portrait Gallery approached Blasenstein and Iacovone a little after 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, about 10 minutes after the two kicked off their guerrilla tablet exhibition.
According to Blasenstein, National Portrait Gallery security guards interrupted their demonstration and called Metropolitan Police Department officers, who detained them.
“My whole goal was to get that art back out,” said Blasenstein. Facing the prospect of arrest, he said that he and Iacovone ultimately opted to cooperate with police. “I could get arrested, but they’ve already taken the art away from the people a second time. I just want to get back to work on this.”
Police made Blasenstein and Iacovone sign forms acknowledging that if they ever set foot on Smithsonian property again, they would be arrested. The officers would not give Blasenstein or Iacovone copies of these forms, according to Blasenstein. He said that an MPD officer cited D.C. code (section 22, chapter 33) governing trespassing in banning the two from the Smithsonian for life.
A public information officer for MPD could not confirm Blasenstein’s account of the incident and said that MPD systems were down throughout the entire District police department today.
“The security officers asked them to leave and they refused,” at which point security called MPD, said National Portrait Gallery spokesperson Bethany Bentley. She said the NPG has no input on citations, so the banning would be solely the call of MPD.
Blasenstein and Iacovone’s demonstration is the latest in a series of actions and screenings aimed at protesting the Smithsonian’s decision to censor a video in a GLBT exhibit following complaints broadcast by conservative media. Blasenstein said that he was inspired to take the work back to the museum after reading that Transformer would no longer be screening the work after Saturday afternoon.
UPDATE: Read the police barring notices here.