Censored art exhibit opens in Tacoma

Janet Flanner by iconic photographer Bernice Abbott is among the works in a new exhibition censored in part by the Smithsonian now on display at the Tacoma Art Museum. (Image: Tacoma Art Museum)

A controversial gay art exhibition censored by the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery is getting a warm welcome at the Tacoma Art Museum, where the series of portraits is making its lone West Coast appearance.

"HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" is an examination of American gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender subject matter spanning 150 years, according to Rock Hushka, Tacoma Art Museum curator.

"The exhibition itself traces the evolution of American art, but also records the social changes almost decade by decade," Hushka said.

The exhibition is considered one of the finest collections of American portraiture ever assembled, featuring work by celebrated masters including Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Andy Warhol.

It was a film about the AIDS epidemic, however, that included an 11 second shot of a crucifix that sparked a massive outcry from conservative groups, who protested the exhibition and demanded its closing. The Smithsonian ultimately removed the film from the exhibition, drawing sharp criticism from a number of fronts.

"We see the museum as a space where we can have safe and respectful dialogues about these really complicated issues," Hushka said of the exhibition, which moved to Tacoma after a record setting run at the prestigious Brooklyn Museum.

The Tacoma Art Museum plans a series of lectures and discussions during the run to help foster a greater understanding about both the exhibition and controversial issues in art in general.

Despite the controversy, Hushka said the museum is proud to present the exhibition in its entirety both as an artistic statement and in strong support of individual liberties for all.

"It's important to present various communities and we will continue to do so, and we want all of the people of the Tacoma area to see themselves on the walls of our galleries."

"HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" runs through June 10 at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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