The Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery will remove a four-minute video feature that contains an image of Jesus on a crucifix covered in ants, its director said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Martin Sullivan, director of the museum, said the video by David Wojnarowicz shows images that "may be" offensive to some.
"I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious," the statement read. "In fact, the artists's intention was to depict the suffering of an AIDS victim. It was not the museum's intention to offend. We are removing the video today. The museum's statement at the exhibition's entrance, 'This exhibition contains mature themes,' will remain in place."
Earlier Tuesday, the museum was under fire for hosting the exhibit that also includes depictions of homoerotic art and an image of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts. The exhibit outraged conservative leaders and prompted some Republican lawmakers to call for a congressional investigation.
“Absolutely, we should look at their funds,” Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told Fox News.
“If they’ve got money to squander like this – of a crucifix being eaten by ants, of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, men in chains, naked brothers kissing – then I think we should look at their budget.”
The video, “A Fire in My Belly,” is included in the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit titled, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” which is scheduled to run through the Christmas season.
National Portrait Gallery historian and exhibit co-curator David C. Ward told CNSNews.com, which first reported the story, that “A Fire in My Belly” reflects the “violent, disturbing and hallucinatory” aspects of the AIDS epidemic.
“'Fire in My Belly' is an example of political engagement in artistic form with the AIDS epidemic by an artist deeply concerned with the exploration of our response to that medical and societal calamity,” Ward said. “That it is violent, disturbing, and hallucinatory precisely replicates the impact of the disease itself on people and a society that could barely comprehend its magnitude."
Kingston saw it differently and called it, “in-your-face perversion paid for by tax dollars.”
And incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., called it an "outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season."
"When a museum receives taxpayer money, the taxpayers have a right to expect that the museum will uphold common standards of decency. The museum should pull the exhibit and be prepared for serious questions come budget time,” Cantor said through a spokesman.
The exhibit also drew the ire of Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who said it is “hate speech.” “This is clearly designed to offend,” he told Fox News.
“What concerns me is that the government is underwriting this assault on Christian sensibilities calculated to offend during the Christmas season.”
The Smithsonian declined numerous opportunities to comment on the controversy. Spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas told the New York Post that it does not comment “on people’s opinions on art.” She also told the newspaper that while the museum receives funding from Congress, the exhibits are funded through private donations.
But Kingston refuted that assertion.
“For them to say this is not tax-funded is absurd,” he said, noting that 65 percent of the Smithsonian budget comes from taxpayers and that the National Portrait Gallery receives $5.8 million in tax dollars.
“If the art community wants to do it, they should do it on their own nickel, but they are doing it in a building that is paid for by the public, with staff that is on the federal payroll,” he said.
Kingston said he was not sure what form a congressional investigation would take, but he said some options included “calling them up in front of the Appropriations Committee, asking for some resignations, auditing all their budget – all their books.”
“We need to move in that direction,” he said. “As stewards of the tax dollars in these very difficult times, we don’t have the money to squander like this.”