The Hide/Seek Controversy: Federal Arts Funding and Censorship


  • Victoria Barry Tulane University


This case outlines the events surrounding the National Portrait Gallery’s presentation of the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. This exhibition sparked debate due to its focus on gay and lesbian artists and themes, as well as the inclusion of A Fire in My Belly, a video work by David Wojnarowicz containing controversial religious imagery. The case charts the trajectory of the controversy, from the initial complaints made by conservative leaders and the video’s eventual removal, to the ensuing protests and threats to Smithsonian funding. The Smithsonian and Republican responses to the exhibition and controversy provide a basis for a larger discussion of federal arts funding and issues of censorship particularly pertaining to hegemonic understandings of culture and sexuality.