Region: North America
Subject: Sexual Orientation
Medium: Performance Art
Artist: Tim Miller
Confronting Bodies: Catholic blogs; Rev. Peter H. Donohue, president of Villanova University
Dates of Action: February 2012
Location: Villanova Unversity, Pennsylvania
Description of Artwork: This incident does not refer to a specific work, as Miller's artist-in-residence program was cancelled before he -- or the students at Villanova -- had the opportunity to create any pieces. However, Miller is known for his performance art, which typically includes stories from his life relating to homosexuality, persecution for his sexual orientation, and AIDS. Miller, Karen Finley, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes became known as the "NEA Four" when their respective grants from the National Endowment For the Arts were vetoed for supposedly "obscene" content in the artists' works.
The Incident: Miller was scheduled to host a week-long series of workshops at Villanova in mid-April. In response to this news, a host of Catholic blogs attacked both the artist and the Catholic university. The Cardinal Newman Society Blog dubbed Miller a "militant gay rights activist" and reported that his "'art' has reportedly included simulating intercourse and lewly [sic] exposing his naked body." Commenters scolded Villanova for inviting Miller to its campus, claiming that the school is "Catholic in name only." Purportedly acting out of response to this backlash, Villanova president Rev. Peter H. Donohue revoked the invitation to Miller. In the school's statement on the incident, Donohue states that "Villanova University is an open and inclusive community and in no way does this singular decision change that.”
Results of Incident: The National Coalition Against Censorship and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education jointly penned a letter sent to Donohue, informing him that they have concerns about the "threat posed to academic freedom" by the university's blunt cancellation of Miller's program. In reply to the letter, Donohue stated that he cancelled the workshops because of the "explicit, graphic, and sexual content" of Miller's work, and denied that the decision was related to Miller's sexual orientation.