This is the most important point of the week: In today’s Los Angeles Times, Mike Boehm reports that Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough “said Thursday that Republican House leaders’ threats of budgetary consequences factored into his Nov. 30 decision to remove a video from a National Portrait Gallery exhibition of work done primarily by artists who are gay and lesbian.” Boehm was reporting on Clough’s appearance at Town Hall LA, Clough’s first public appearance since censoring art in the NPG’s “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.”
Unfortunately, the timeline of events doesn’t jibe with what Clough said in Los Angeles: The first Republican threat to the Smithsonian budget came on Dec. 1, the day after Clough censored “Hide/Seek” by removing David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly.” (The threat came from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who sits on the Appropriations Committee.) Until Dec. 1, Congressional Republicans had not specifically threatened the Smithsonian’s federal appropriation; instead they merely pledged oversight and intensified examination. (It also appears unlikely that the Smithsonian was threatened with cuts in private conversations. On Tuesday Clough told the New York Times’ Kate Taylor that he has had no communication with House leaders who had threatened the Smithsonian.) Clough’s censorship may have emboldened Republicans rather than sated them.
Then yesterday, MAN was the first to report that House Republicans’ initial proposed budget cuts don’t include cuts to the Smithsonian’s appropriation after all. (At least for now.)
I understand that the Smithsonian needs people to believe that cuts were coming if Clough didn’t censor the exhibition. Without that, Clough’s censorship looks particularly reactionary. Unfortunately for the Smithsonian, the timeline of actual events doesn’t support its spin.