Who Should Decide What is Art?

by Jeffrey Miron on December 1st, 2010
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House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Tuesday called for the dismantling of an exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery after they learned that it contains video of a Jesus statue with ants crawling on it, as well as works of art with strongly sexual themes.

If Boehner and Cantor want to oppose all government funding of art, I will cheer them from the highest rooftops. But they are not taking a principled stance here; they are helping the government dictate what constitutes art.  That is bad for freedom, and bad for art.


The National Portrait Gallery agreed to remove one of the artworks from the exhibit late Tuesday. “A Fire in My Belly,” the video installation that depicts ants on a cross, was taken down.

Museum director Martin Sullivan said in a statement, “I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious.”

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