Geof Stone Takes Part in Panel on "Fire in My Belly" Controversy

Panel defends Smithsonian display of Wojnarowicz film
Asher Klein
Chicago Maroon
January 28, 2011

Government officials who play politics with works of art miss the point, said a Smart Museum–sponsored panel on the right to display controversial art in public institutions.

“Is it the purpose of the state to equate democracy to feeling comfortable?” English Professor Lauren Berlant asked a crowded room in the Cochrane-Woods Arts Center last night.

The talk came two months after a short, silent film called “A Fire in My Belly,” which is now on display at the Smart Museum, was removed from a queer-themed Smithsonian Museum exhibition. The removal was prompted by criticism from the political right, including the then-incumbent Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

It is a decision the four panelists lamented for artistic, public policy, and public discourse reasons, though constitutional law professor and former Dean of the Law School Geoff Stone was somewhat more straightforward. “Art requires a separation from politics,” he said. “That’s a hard thing for politicians to do. They have constituents.”