MAN has learned that the decision to remove the David Wojnarowicz video A Fire in My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” was made by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough. Until contacted by MAN on Wednesday afternoon and as recently as Wednesday morning, the Smithsonian had maintained that the decision to pull the Wojnarowicz was made by NPG director Martin Sullivan and Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian undersecretary for art, history and culture. A source told MAN of Clough’s involvement and a Smithsonian spokesperson confirmed the account.
“In the end, a decision like that is the Secretary’s,” Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas told me.
The Castle’s admission that Clough himself made the call to pull the Wojnarowicz is also the Smithsonian’s first admission the Secretary has been involved in the controversy surrounding “Hide/Seek.” The presumptive House Speaker, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and No. 2 House Republican Eric Cantor have demanded that the Smithsonian cancel or close the exhibition.
Clough “was out of town he was consulted on the phone,” St. Thomas said. “The key people physically in the room [when the decision was made] Richard Kurin and Martin Sullivan. The Secretary does stand by the exhibition. The only change is the four-minute video.” Sullivan told the New York Times that the exhibition would stay on view and that no other pieces would be removed.
A source told MAN that Sullivan opposed the removal of the work but that Clough insisted upon it. “I’m not privy to the conversation they had,” St. Thomas said. “I don’t know what happened in the course of the conversation.”
The Smithsonian refused to make Clough available for an interview. St. Thomas referred all questions to the National Portrait Gallery.
UPDATE: Four hours after MAN broke this story, Clough publicly took responsibility for yanking the Wojnarowicz.