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the 1993 Whitney Biennial

Charles Ray, Family Romance, 1992–93, painted fiberglass, synthetic hair. Installation view, 1993 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photo: Ted Thai/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images.

IN 1991, when I came to the Whitney, I felt we were under siege. It was impossible to work in an art museum and ignore what was happening around you. The conservative Republican campaign to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, which was really a thinly veiled effort to censor American artists, was in full swing. Under George H. W. Bush appointee John Frohnmayer, the NEA had withdrawn funding (later partially restored) for the group exhibition “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing,” organized by Nan Goldin at Artists Space in New York. Washington, DC’s Corcoran Gallery had bowed to congressional pressure, canceling its plans to host the Robert Mapplethorpe show “The Perfect Moment.” The Ayatollah Khomeini had proclaimed a fatwa against Salman Rushdie. As a curator, I could not hide from these attacks on free expression any more than I could hide from the homophobia and racism

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