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Only on MAN: Smithsonian Secretary pulled Wojnarowicz video

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Click here for MAN’s complete “Hide/Seek” coverage.

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.

Clough’s decision has been widely criticized, including by Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik and by, well, me.

UPDATE: Four hours after MAN broke this story, Clough publicly took responsibility for yanking the Wojnarowicz.

Click here for MAN’s complete “Hide/Seek” coverage.

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Comments

  1. Pardon my serial comments about this repulsive issue, but I just have to share this superb note left on my blog:

    “So let me get this straight. The National Portrait Gallery pulled a video because it was ‘offensive’ yet Fox news gets to show same ‘offensive’ video on it’s website? Why doesn’t the museum just show Fox news showing the ‘offensive’ video?”

  2. Secretary Clough threw the NPG and the Smithsonian’s mission and values, under the bus. The Gallery looks insensitive and skittish, and is even facing a protest march tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Castle sits high above it all in the news stories.

  3. This is unconscionable. and to trivialize the censorship as just the “four minute video”?

  4. [...] her Tuesday reporting: The order to censor an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery came from the very top of the Smithsonian. That’s a pretty big deal — and will be much-discussed and analyzed in the weeks to [...]

  5. [...] | Tyler Green: Modern Art Notes | ARTINFO.comby Art Fag City on December 2, 2010 · 0 commentsOnly on MAN: Smithsonian Secretary pulled Wojnarowicz video | Tyler Green: Modern Art Notes | ARTINF… – Apparently, the decision to remove the David Wojnarowicz video A Fire in My Belly from the [...]

  6. I have to admit, I had kind of hoped that pulling the video was some kind of strategic judo move to draw attention to World AIDS Day. This is just ridiculous.

    Isn’t it wonderful that tax-exempt religious groups get to co-curate our public museums?

  7. [...] Even though the decision came “from above” (and this information didn’t emerge until the next day) — from Clough calling on the Portrait Gallery to remove Wojnarowicz’s piece, with poor [...]

  8. [...] Even though the decision came “from above” (and this information didn’t emerge until the next day) — from Clough calling on the Portrait Gallery to remove Wojnarowicz’s piece, with poor [...]

  9. [...] overrun with ants. Shortly after objection to the piece was raised by the Catholic League, the Smithsonian’s leadership promptly removed the [...]

  10. It’s like an episode from As The Artworld Turns, and this time Father Wildmon is recalled from the grave to give his all-important thoughts on life that has pretty much ignored him, thoughts which really have no importance at all.

    No doubt Wojnarowicz’s stock goes up, and the only condoms the Catholic church will be giving out this Xmas will be to themselves.

  11. [...] and Desire in American Portraiture.” Last week Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough personally ordered the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly from the show. The Castle confirmed to MAN that [...]

  12. [...] attacked the work as anti-Catholic and its display as an “outrageous use of taxpayer money,” G. Wayne Clough, the Smithsonian Secretary, last week ordered the video removed from the show, prompting a [...]

  13. [...] removed from the exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery. The parent institution, the Smithsonian, seemed to do that preemptively – they sensed trouble coming. And Rich adds [...]

  14. [...] removed from the exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery some 10 days ago with the full approval, if not instigation, of its parent institution, the Smithsonian. (The censored version of “Hide/Seek” is still [...]

  15. [...] removed from the exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery some 10 days ago with the full approval, if not instigation, of its parent institution, the Smithsonian. (The censored version of “Hide/Seek” is still [...]

  16. [...] removed from the exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery some 10 days ago with the full approval, if not instigation, of its parent institution, the Smithsonian. (The censored version of “Hide/Seek” is still [...]

  17. [...] removed from the exhibitby the National Portrait Gallery some 10 days ago with the full approval, if not instigation, of its parent institution, the Smithsonian. (The censored version of “Hide/Seek” is still [...]

  18. [...] removed from the exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery some 10 days ago with the full approval, if not instigation, of its parent institution, the Smithsonian. (The censored version of “Hide/Seek” is still [...]

  19. [...] on the afternoon of Dec. 1 we found out that the Smithsonian’s story was one big fib: It turns out that it wasn’t Sullivan and Kurin who had yanked the video but the [...]

  20. [...] and Desire in American Portraiture,” we have learned that Clough’s Smithsonian was initially dishonest with the American public about who censored the exhibit. We learned that when gay people assert [...]

  21. [...] was no surprise that in his welcoming remarks Wayne Clough described himself as having no choice but to censor the artwork.  Less expected was when Richard [...]

  22. [...] A year after the controversial removal of the late David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly from a National Portrait Gallery [...]

  23. [...] Wojnarowicz’s film “A Fire in My Belly” — with its fleeting ants-on-a-crucifix scene — was pulled from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery under pressure from congressional Republicans and religious Catholic groups. This year, when the [...]

  24. [...] Wojnarowicz’s film “A Fire in My Belly” — with its fleeting ants-on-a-crucifix scene — was pulled from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery under pressure from congressional Republicans and religious Catholic groups. This year, when the [...]

  25. [...] Wojnarowicz’s film ‘A Fire in My Belly’ — with its fleeting ants-on-a-crucifix scene — was pulled from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery under pressure from congressional Republicans and religious Catholic groups. This year, when the [...]

  26. [...] have elected to remove the video, but he did not refute the official story. Later, Tyler Green confirmed that the decision to censor the show of works by queer artists was Clough's [...]

  27. [...] especially damning decision: When, in 2010, caving to the demands of conservative organizations, he ordered the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in My Belly” from the National Portrait Gallery’s groundbreaking exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference [...]

  28. [...] and here. As the Smithsonian’s own research revealed, it was a hit with other visitors too.) As first reported here on MAN, Clough ordered a David Wojnarowicz removed from the [...]

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