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Uncovering the Conservative Writer Who Fueled the National Portrait Gallery Controversy

The controversy over the National Portrait Gallery‘s decision to pull a piece by artist David Wojnarowicz just got a bit more interesting with this story filed by Kriston Capps at the Washington City Paper. Digging into the origins of the story, wherein an unlikely piece of art, considered “fairly minor” and “not even the most prominent piece by the artist on display” at the Gallery’s new exhibition “Hide/Seek,” became such a hot button issue, Capps tracks the whole thing back to conservative advocate and writer Penny Starr, who not only published the first outcry about it but used her political contacts to help push it into becoming the gigantic story it’s become. He further reveals that Starr was able to get John Boehner and Eric Cantor on board by saying she was on deadline and needed their responses immediately, with Boehner in particular never even having seen Wojnarowicz’s piece or any of the exhibition in the first place. From there, all the pieces fell into place, the Smithsonian believing “that the outrage was organic”, the Catholic League (also likely never having seen the piece before) got involved, the art was pulled, and the rest is history and still a batch of awkwardness for the Smithsonian and its higher-ups. It’s a fascinating read, seeing how just one agenda-backed writer can stir the pot so successfully.

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