2011 Muzzles mural (image via tjcenter.org)

The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, an independently funded organization associated with the University of Virginia, has given out one of its annual Jefferson Muzzle awards to Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough for his removal of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” video and censoring of the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery. That’s one trophy we assume won’t be going on display in his home.

The Jefferson Muzzle awards are given to those individuals “responsible for some of the more egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression occurring in the previous year,” and recipients are decided by a panel of “officials at every level of government — federal, state, local — and two private entities.”

Clough’s fellow award winners include:

  • The Obama Administration and BP for their questionable transparency on the oil spill.
  • The Transportation Security Administration for “arresting a passenger who stripped to his shorts to protest security measures.”
  • The Virginia Department of Corrections for denying prison inmates access to a legal self-help book.

Clough’s crime is described by the Jefferson Center as “bowing to political pressure and removing a work of video art because it included a 11-second shot of ants crawling on a crucifix.” The ridiculous case still rankles, though the controversy has calmed down since December. Clough failed to consult with Smithsonian staff after Republicans pressed for the National Portrait Gallery to remove the video from Hide/Seek, an exhibition exploring the fluidity of sexuality and gender in art. The video was deemed offensive to some right-wing Christian groups and politicians for its religious imagery. Clough unilaterally decided to remove Wojnarowicz’s video from the exhibit, caving at the first sign of political pressure and thus earning a Muzzle.

Sadly, no amount of satire will do anything to help the Smithsonian’s damaged reputation, which rests squarely on Clough’s shoulders.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

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