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Feb. 3, 2011

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More than two months have passed since Smithsonian Institution chief G. Wayne Clough, prompted by the Catholic League and Rep. John Boehner, removed an exhibition version of David Wojnarowicz’s short (and unfinished) film, A Fire in My Belly, from the National Portrait Gallery’s pioneering show "Hide / Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture."

The censorship, such as it was, ignited a controversy that’s not going away. The curators of "Hide / Seek," Jonathan Katz and David C. Ward, begged other artists -- like AA Bronson -- to refrain from withdrawing their works in protest, and further gutting the show. Protests have continued, at the Smithsonian and elsewhere (see

P.P.O.W. Gallery, which represents the artist’s estate, reports that it has distributed over 90 copies of a DVD of the film (containing both a 13-minute-long version and another 8-minute-long section, which were each found among the artist’s effects) to museums and universities, for exhibition or use in educational presentations. Most are in the U.S., but copies have gone to Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, and to the Tate in London. One of the most recent loans of the DVD is to Emory University in Atlanta, for screening as part of a panel discussion.

P.P.O.W. has also issued a fact sheet to clear up some misconceptions about the film -- the footage exists in several unfinished versions, for instance, and the film was never completed, for unknown reasons. These sorts of questions are addressed in Marcia Vetrocq’s final editor’s letter in the current Art in America, and recently Culture Monster blogger David Ng did his own entry of "corrections."

Perhaps most importantly, coming up at P.P.O.W. is "Spirituality: An Exhibition of Selected Work by David Wojnarowicz," Mar. 3-Apr. 9, 2011, a show designed to explore the broader use of religious imagery in the artist’s works.

The American Folk Art Museum is back in the news again -- and the reports are not good. The problem is money, specifically $3.7 million in missed interest payments on the $31.9 million loan the AFAM took out to build its exotic, zinc-clad Tod Williams-Billie Tsien facility down the street from the Museum of Modern Art in 2001. Luckily, the museum bought insurance on its mortgage payments -- maybe the Wall Street meltdown has an upside? -- and holders of the tax-exempt bonds issued ten years ago by the NYC Trust for Cultural Resources have so far been paid on time.

In the last day or two, the New York Observer and Bloomberg have each highlighted the museum’s various strategies for recovery. In the breathless Observer report, AFAM had sought the patronage of Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, but lost out after the billionaire was allegedly "turned off" by the images of naked children in Outsider Artist Henry Darger’s watercolors.

According to the Observer, the AFAM financial woes can primarily be attributed to another patron -- or to his arrest, rather: long-time benefactor Ralph Esmerian was charged with numerous instances of fraud late last year and is to be tried later this month. Whose deep pockets will replace his? Looks like the jury’s still out.

Meanwhile, museum attendance and revenue continue to fall short of projections made in 2000, Bloomberg reports, but executive director Maria Ann Conelli remains upbeat. "We are planning our way out of this," she said in an interview. On view at the AFAM now are shows of Eugene von Breunchenhein, masterwork quilts and "Perspectives, Forming the Figure," a survey of depictions of people in folk art.

The Drawing Center, one of SoHo’s few remaining institutional art attractions, has announced plans to expand upwards -- to the second floor of its present building, that is. Drawing Center director Brett Littman told the New York Times that the project’s $8.6-million cost is half in hand, including $3 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; the price of the real estate is $2.4 million.

The expansion scheme, overseen by architect Clair Weisz, adds 50 percent more gallery space, as well as a new bookstore, and involves renovating the basement, too. The center closes for construction in July 2011, with completion slated for March 2012. In his NYT interview, Littman suggested that traffic to his museum had been substantially aided by the burgeoning art scene on the Bowery and the Lower East Side, which developed after 2008, when his board dropped a $60-million plan to move to a Fulton Fish Market warehouse.

The provocative performance artist Karen Finley has signed up at the Guggenheim Museum to teach a special course in conjunction with the Gugg’s next big blockbuster, "The Great Upheaval," Feb. 4-June 1, 2011. Dubbed "The Artist’s Voice with Karen Finley," the five-session workshop draws on works on view in the museum and explores, among other things, each participant’s "own inner voice." No art-making experience is required. Tuition is $250 ($175 for members and students); to register, call (212) 423-3781.

Artnet Auction
specialist Max Wolf is branching out. Instead of organizing online sales of artworks, he’s selected a group of works and put them on view in a gallery. "MISC." opens Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 (and stays on view till Mar. 10, 2011), at AFP Gallery in suite 702 in the Fuller Building at 41 East 57th Street in Midtown. Artists in the show include Mya Ando, Sebastien Black, Valerie Crosswhite, Keith Haring and several others. Everything is for sale, at prices ranging from $400 to $75,000.

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