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Religious Symbols in Art as Hate Speech

With The Andy Warhol Foundation’s recent letter to G. Wayne Clough, the head of the Smithsonian, threatening to reject future grant requests unless the Smithsonian returns “A Fire in My Belly” to the current “Hide/Seek” exhibition, it seems that everyone is weighing in on the Worjnarowicz/Smithsonian controversy–a controversy which has quickly resurrected the culture wars. Those in the right wing media attest that the 11 second image of ants running along a cross is “hate speech.” So, the use of a religious symbol in an unconventional method equates to hate speech? From the viewpoint of this author, commentary using religious symbols is a simple tool of expression that has been commonly, and in many cases expected to be, employed. When using heavy terms, such as “hate speech,” which carry the baggage of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (505 U.S. 377(1992)), one wonders if the term is being used to promote public discussion or simply to disrespect and disregard an entire area of artwork.

But I say, Hide/Seek for yourself. Warjnarowicz’s work is currently exhibited in the lobby of the New Museum here in New York. The work will be exhibited through January 23, 2011. ( What do you think? Hate speech or art?

A summary of the issue was posted on this blog back on Dec. 2 discussing it from a censorship standpoint (

The NY Times article on The Andy Warhol Foundation’s latest threat can be found here (

*picture above from Sara Krulwich/The New York Times