David Wojnarowicz

Art critic’s reporting on the National Portrait Gallery’s recent censoring shows how the Web can outperform print.

By Dickson Mercer

Two days later there are about a million Web articles informing us that The Washington Post’s art and fashion critics will move on to new jobs. (Here’s one from Tuesday.)

So it goes: Fashion critic Robin Givhan will follow the Post’s former media reporter, Howard Kurtz, to the Daily Beast. Art critic Blake Gopnik, in turn, will take a yet-to-be-identified job in some city called New York.

I really enjoy Gopnik’s work, and it seemed particularly odd to read of his resignation Tuesday – at time when, in my mind, he’s been putting out some of his best stuff.

At 11:17 a.m. Nov. 30, washingtonpost.com published Gopnik’s column criticizing the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Institution’s decision to cower to the Catholic League’s request for gay artist David Wojnarowicz’s video – a four-minute excerpt from his 1987 work, “A Fire in My Belly” – to be removed from “Hide/Seek,” its ongoing exhibition on gay love.

The video, which has an 11-second clip of ants crawling over a crucifix, is Wojnarowicz’ tribute to a lover who died of AIDS that year. Wojnarowicz died of AIDS five years later.

Enough of the background. For this venue, it’s not particularly important, either, that there was a lot in Gopnik’s article I agreed with, or that I think he presented his argument well. The reason to bring this up here is because Gopnik’s reporting on this issue is a good example of how, in some instances, the Web is a truly superior platform to print.

The final graph of this column is Gopnik’s admission that his review of “Hide/Seek” was a “rave.” On the Web, you have the option of consuming this review immediately. Another nice addition to the Web article is a timeline of “notable art controversies.”

Praise and criticism for Gopnik’s column came in fast, and the next day you could read his responses to some of the more critical comments.

Of course, you might also want to know what all the fuss is about. Lucky for us, just because the NPG caved to one group’s demands does not mean the media has to. The Web edition of Gopnik’s column, for one, also comes with the protested video embedded into its video player at the top of the article.

No matter what NPG decided, “Hide/Seek” was eventually going to close and “A Fire in My Belly” was going to move on. On the Web, however, we don’t even need to take exhibition dates into account. It’s there forever: We can watch it whenever we feel like it.

Rather than post the video here, I’ll leave the decision to go surfing for it on YouTube up to you.