Brooklyn Museum Rejects Bishop’s Call to Pull Ants-on-Crucifix Video from Gay Art Exhibit

Penny Starr | November 15, 2011 | 8:15pm EST
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Image from "A Fire in my Belly" video. (Photo: Penny Starr/

( – The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn told officials at the Brooklyn Museum that a video depicting Jesus Christ on a cross with ants crawling over him is “disrespectful” to Christians and requested that it be removed, but Bishop Nicholas DeMarzio is not making public the correspondence between him and the museum.

The video, “A Fire in My Belly” by the late gay activist David Wojnarowicz, was pulled from a “gay erotic” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. last year after reported on it and Catholic groups and some members of Congress complained that the exhibit should be closed and that the video was offensive to Christians.

(Photo: Penny Starr/

Now the “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibit opens on Friday at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and will include the controversial video, which also includes images of male full frontal nudity, bowls of blood, and bloody images of Wojnarowicz’s mouth being sewn shut.

Stephanie Gutierrez, press secretary for the Diocese, told by telephone that Bishop DeMarzio “thought [the video] is disrespectful to Christians of every background” but that he did not want to create “a public spectacle” by releasing the letter he wrote to the museum and the museum’s written response.

Gutierrez told that the letter from the museum included its decision not to pull the video.

The Brooklyn Museum is known for mounting controversial “art,” including a painting by Chris Ofili it exhibited in 1999 that depicts a black Virgin Mary surrounded by pornographic images and elephant dung.

(Photo: Penny Starr/

The Associated Press reported that Brooklyn Museum Director Arnold Lehman said the museum wanted to present the Hide/Seek exhibition "clearly because it's such an important aspect of American art in the 20th century."

"This is New York City,” Lehman told the AP. “This is a city that has thrived on the incredible contributions from the gay and lesbian community.”

“This is a state that's just passed a very progressive legalization of gay marriage,” Lehman said.

The Smithsonian Museums receive millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, including the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery told when it published the story about “Hide/Seek” last November that although the museum receives federal funding, private donations paid for the actual placement of the exhibit.

Federal funding, however, helped pay the cost of the museum’s operations, maintenance and security.

In 1999, then-mayor Rudy Giuliani tried but failed to cut public funding for the Brooklyn Museum.

The main financial sponsor of the Brooklyn Museum exhibit is the Ford Foundation, according to the museum’s Web site. Other support was provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Barbara and Richard Moore, The Calamus Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc., Donald A. Capoccia and Tommie Pegues, the Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation, Inc., Leslie and David Puth, Allison Grover and Susie Scher, the David Schwartz Foundation, Mario J. Palumbo, Jr., and Tom Healy and Fred Hochberg.

Like the National Portrait Gallery, “Hide/Seek” will run at the Brooklyn Museum through the Christmas holiday season and will close on Feb. 12.

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