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Smithsonian’s Censorship Gaffe Continues to Snowball

by Hrag Vartanian on December 24, 2010

Two new developments in the Wojnarowicz Censorship case since we last reported on the Hide/Seek show and its problems with government censorship and a Smithsonian Secretary who just can’t say sorry.

The Washington Post‘s Philip Kenicott has joined the chorus of voices asking for Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough to step down:

… best option for undoing the damage remains the resignation of the man who made the decision.

… Clough’s decision, made hastily and, it seems, over the objections of his curators and the Portrait Gallery’s Sullivan, ran counter to this history of reform and showed an astonishing lack of perception about the humanities as well as the dynamics of museum culture. It was tactically, strategically and historically stupid.

It was tactically stupid because the culture wars were effectively over, at least in the museum world. Clough has re-empowered forces that will soon be back for more symbolic acts of contrition and subservience. It was strategically stupid because it harms not just the Smithsonian, but all museums.

And The Art Newspaper reported earlier this week that another art work in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition is being requested to be removed, but this time not by the artist who made it, but by the owner:

Jim Hedges, a hedge-fund specialist and art aficionado, has written to Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, requesting that his loaned work “Untitled, Self-Portrait” by Jack Pierson be removed from the Hide/Seek NPG exhibition “until such time as the David Wojnarowicz video is reinstated in its full unedited version.

As the pressure grows, it’s only a matter of time that the Smithsonian feels forced to respond to the endless stream of protests. I imagine at this point there’s a better chance of Secretary Clough resigning than David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” returning to the exhibition.

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