When David Met Jonathan: Behind them, at December’s New York Public Library symposium, is a photo of Walt Whitman, left, and his lover, Peter Doyle, whose relationship started the two curators talking about the show that eventually became “Hide/Seek.”
I really did try to give David Ward, co-curator of the National Portrait Gallery’s hot-button “Hide/Seek” show, a chance to speak about something other than the removed David Wojnarovicz video, which, even in its absence, has created a major public distraction from the monumental achievement of the National Portrait Gallery’s landmark exhibition—beautifully installed, intelligently explicated, eye-opening and enormously well attended. (Its numbers were up 74% in November and December from the same period last year.)
Left, the touchscreen kiosk where viewers could previously access the NPG-edited version of Wojnarovicz’s “A Fire in My Belly,” along with James Bigwood’s dreamy, soft-porn video, “Pink Narcissus” (still running)
Right, AA Bronson’s “Felix, June 5,1994,” National Gallery of Canada
I encountered David on Tuesday in the galleries, where he was giving an interview to a Voice of America reporter who started off by noting that he had never heard of Wojnarovicz before the “Hide/Seek” controversy erupted.
When that taping was through, I planted Ward in front of Thomas Eakins‘ photograph of Walt Whitman, the father figure for this show, and asked him to talk about the fateful day (described in the “Acknowledgements” section of the show’s catalogue) when “Hide/Seek’s” co-curator, Jonathan Katz, approached Ward about a label Ward had written for an 1865 image (above) by an unidentified photographer, which had been displayed in the NPG’s 2006 Whitman show. The photo depicted the celebrated poet with his male lover, Peter Doyle. The rest, as they say, is history. (In the video below, Ward attributes the photo to Mathew Brady, but an NPG spokesperson told me that was in error.)
As you will see from this video, Ward felt compelled to bring up Wojnarovicz himself, so I followed his lead and threw in a couple of controversy-related questions (in a very raspy voice, fighting a very bad cold):