freedom of expression, grantee,

The Warhol Foundation Board Lifts 8-Year Funding Ban on the Smithsonian

Foundation will award $100,000 to the National Museum for the American Indian for a major Oscar Howe retrospective

The Board of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has voted to lift its eight-year funding ban on the Smithsonian Institution. The Foundation will award $100,000 to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for a major Oscar Howe retrospective as part of its Fall 2018 Grants, which will be announced next week. The Oscar Howe Project will include the first major retrospective, touring exhibition, and publication to feature the work of this groundbreaking and influential artist. The exhibition will include approximately 75 paintings, many of which will be on view publicly for the first time. Oscar Howe (1915-1983), a member of the Yanktonai Dakota tribe, was a pioneering student of Dorothy Dunn, an influential non-Native teacher who developed and promoted rigid aesthetic standards that came to define Native American painting in the United States in the early to mid-20th century. Howe pushed against these conventions and experimented with dynamic abstract compositions in pursuit of his own modernist style. He was openly critical of the narrow parameters imposed upon Native art and strongly defended the right of Native artists to steer their own paths. His work as both an artist and an activist is widely seen as a major influence on experimental contemporary Native art.

The funding ban on the Smithsonian was initiated in 2010 after the National Portrait Gallery, under pressure from the Catholic League and several Washington politicians, removed artist David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly from the Foundation-supported exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. At the time, Foundation President Joel Wachs requested that then-Secretary Wayne Clough return the work to view noting that, “Such blatant censorship is unconscionable. It is inimical to everything the Smithsonian Institution should stand for, and everything the Andy Warhol Foundation does stand for.” When the work was not restored, the Foundation board, acting from its longstanding commitment to freedom of expression, unanimously decided to suspend funding for all Smithsonian museums.

Reflecting on the current grant, Wachs stated, “We believe that the ban has had its intended effect of promoting freedom of artistic expression at the national level. The Smithsonian has also demonstrated a strong track record of highlighting underrepresented artists over the past eight years, which aligns well with the Foundation’s core values. While Wojnarowicz and Howe were very different artists working in different circumstances, both fiercely advocated for the visibility and inclusion of marginalized perspectives in contemporary art discourse. Both were driven by a belief that communities should take control of their own narratives, particularly in the face of misguided (and malicious) attempts by others to do it for them. Howe’s work was revolutionary in its time and paved the way for Native artists to claim greater agency; his life and work are a testament to the strength of artistic commitment to shape and influence contemporary culture.”

ABOUT THE ANDY WARHOL FOUNDATION FOR THE VISUAL ARTS: In accordance with Andy Warhol’s will, the mission of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts is the advancement of the visual arts. The Foundation manages an innovative and flexible grants program while also preserving Warhol’s legacy through creative and responsible licensing policies and extensive scholarly research for ongoing catalogue raisonné projects. To date, the Foundation has given over $200 million in cash grants to over 1,000 arts organizations in 49 states and abroad and has donated 52,786 works of art to 322 institutions worldwide.

More information about the Foundation is available at

Header Image: The National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. Photo by David Sundberg (2016)