As tonight’s protest at the National Portrait Gallery kicks off, artist Adrian Parsons will project David Wojnarowicz‘s 1987 artwork A Fire in My Belly onto the facade of the National Portrait Gallery.
Parsons is projecting the four-minute version of the clip onto the side of the building facing 7th and G Streets NW. If everything goes off without a hitch, Parsons said that the video will appear approximately 20 to 30 feet in diameter along the building.
“A Fire in My Belly should be in the museum,” said Parsons. “If it’s not going to be in the museum, it’s going to be on the museum.”
There is room for a hitch. In order to power his projector and DVD player, Parsons is tapping a D.C. street lamp. Which is not, strictly speaking, legal. Parsons said he expects to be arrested or compelled to stop, since he lacks a proper permit.
In every other way, it’s 1989 redux. When the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s director Christina Orr-Cahall made the controversial decision to cancel its Robert Mapplethorpe in the face of criticism from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), artists gathered to protest.
Then, as with this week’s controversy, artists were outraged. They gathered on the Corcoran’s steps and tore up their Corcoran membership cards. (Staff did, too.) D.C. artist Rockne Krebs projected images of Mapplethorpe’s photography onto the Corcoran building on June 30, the date that the opening reception was to have been held.
The greatest difference between then and now? It may be that the artists had permits for the projection, according to accounts from former D.C. art dealer Bill Wooby.
“If the Corcoran had stuck to its guns on this issue, this would have made them a real musueum in town, not just a stepsister to the Smithsonian,” Wooby told the New York Times in June 1989—a statement that sounds ironic two decades later.
Back in 1989, it should be said, Orr-Cahall was responding to perceived pressure from the powerful Sen. Helms. Tonight’s protest was organized by Transformer in response to the decision by Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Wayne Clough to pull Wojnarowicz’s video after complaints appeared in the conservative media—complaints endorsed half-heartedly by flacks for incoming Republican House leaders.