In comments made to Kate Taylor of the New York Times Tuesday, Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough hinted or indirectly suggested that one reason he censored “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was because he was worried about the Smithsonian’s relations with Congress. “In the interest of that exhibition and this institution and its legacy and maintaining it in the strongest possible position, I think I made the right decision — in that context,” Clough said. “I’ll let the art world debate it in another context.” Clough’s Thursday statement also made an oblique reference to the appropriations process and Clough’s “responsibility as Secretary to take actions that are needed to sustain the long-term strength of an institution I care deeply about and to allow it to continue to serve its important educational mission.” About 70 percent of Smithsonian expenditures come from the federal government.
The Republican Study Committee — which describes itself as “over 165 House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives” — proposed $2.5 trillion in spending reductions over ten years. The group includes over half of all House Republicans. Its cuts list includes many previous Republican targets, including the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The RSC proposed no cuts to the Smithsonian Institution. (Also not mentioned in the RSC’s proposal: The National Gallery of Art and the Kennedy Center.)
Members of the RSC include the House members considered most likely to call for cuts to the Smithsonian’s appropriation. They include Rep. Jack Kingston, an Appropriations Committee member who, after Clough censored “Hide/Seek” said that “the Smithsonian budget should be looked at” and No. 2 House Republican Eric Cantor, who said that “the museum should… be prepared for some serious questions come budget time.”
The announcement by the Republican Study Committee raises questions about whether Clough’s rush to censor “Hide/Seek” was ‘necessary’ to fend off a House GOP attack on the Smithsonian appropriation. On Tuesday, Clough indicated to the NYT’s Taylor that no members of the House Republican leadership had asked to meet with him to discuss any potential issues with “Hide/Seek.”
Related: Washington Post coverage of the RSC proposal.