Boehner and Cantor to Smithsonian: Pull Exhibit Featuring Ant-Covered Jesus or Else

By Penny Starr | November 30, 2010 | 1:52pm EST

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio. (AP File Photo/J. David Ake)

( -- House Speaker-to-be John Boehner (R-Ohio) is telling the Smithsonian Institution to pull an exhibit that features images of an ant-covered Jesus or else face tough scrutiny when the new Republican majority takes control of the House in January. House Majority Leader-to-be Eric Cantor (R.-Va.), meanwhile, is calling on the Smithsonian to pull the exhibit and warning the federally funded institution that it will face serious questions when Congress considers the next budget. had asked both congressional leaders if the exhibit should continue or be cancelled and both indicated it should be cancelled.

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Also this morning, contacted the press offices of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), House Minority Leader-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and Jim Clyburn (D.-S.C.), the third-ranking Democrat in the House, and asked them the same question. These congressional leaders have not yet responded.

“American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy,” Boehner’s Spokesman Kevin Smith told “While the amount of money involved may be small, it’s symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions involving Americans’ hard-earned money at a time when one in every 10 Americans is out of work and our children’s future is being threatened by debt.

“Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves to end the job-killing spending spree in Washington,” Smith said.

When asked to clarify what exactly Boehner meant by calling on the Smithsonian to “correct” their mistake with the exhibit, Smith responded in an email that Boehner wanted the exhibit “cancelled.”

Cantor, meanwhile, said the exhibit should be “pulled.”

A crucifix in the video “A Fire in My Belly,” part of the ‘Hide/Seek’ exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The image shows Christ on the cross with ants crawling over his body and face. ( Starr)

“This is an outrageous use of tax payer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season,” said Cantor. “When a museum receives taxpayer money, the taxpayers have a right to expect that the museum will uphold common standards of decency. The museum should pull the exhibit and be prepared for serious questions come budget time.” 

The exhibit, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” includes video images of an ant-covered Jesus on a crucifix, male genitals, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show's catalog as "homoerotic."

It is being presented at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, where it opened on Oct. 30 and is set to run throughout the Christmas Season before closing on Feb. 13

David C. Ward, a National Portrait Gallery historian who is the co-curator of the exhibit, told “This is an exhibition that displays masterpieces of American portraiture and we wanted to illustrate how questions of biography and identity went into the making of images that are canonical.”

The Interior Department appropriation for fiscal 2010 provided $636,161,000 for the Smithsonian Institution.

Smithsonian Institution Spokesperson Linda St. Thomas said that the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery itself received $5.8 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2010.  St. Thomas told, however, that federal funds are not used to pay for Smithsonian exhibits themselves, including the “Hide/Seek” exhibit, but instead pay for the buildings, the care of collections exhibited at Smithsonian venues, and museum staff, including the salaries for curators of exhibits.

Among the donors who provided support for the “Hide/Seek” exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery are The Calamus Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The John Burton Harter Charitable Foundation, and The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

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