As you surely know by now, Smithsonian secretary and “Hide/Seek” censor G. Wayne Clough announced his resignation yesterday. He’ll leave the institution in October, 2014. Ever since the Smithsonian regents investigated Clough’s role in censoring “Hide/Seek” in 2011, he’s been presumed to be a short-termer. Sure enough, two-and-a-half years after the regents concluded their investigation, Clough is on the way out. (Why didn’t he go sooner? Read this.)
“Hide/Seek” was a National Portrait Gallery exhibition curated by David Ward and Jonathan Katz. Critically admired, it won the Association of Art Museum Curators award for best thematic show of 2010. (I reviewed it here, here 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 exhibition.
But because “Hide/Seek” is the exhibition that never stops giving, it’s important to call attention to a remarkably bad Washington Post write-up of Clough’s resignation. Not only do Posties Katherine Boyle and Lonnae O’Neal Parker bury the defining event of Clough’s tenure in paragraph No. 16, four paragraphs from the bottom of their story (seriously?!), they made numerous errors regarding the exhibition and the events around it.
First, Boyle and Parker described it as an “exhibition examining same-sex intimacy,” which it most certainly was not. “Hide/Seek” examined sexual difference in American portraiture.
Next, Boyle and Parker wrote, “the removal of the video sparked an outcry from gay activists.” That factual error is odious in its insinuation, in the way it uses the construct of the ‘other’ — those icky, don’t-they-ever-shut-up!? gay activists and their love of art about ‘sexual intimacy!’ — to separate good, presumably hetero-normal folks such as Boyle, Parker and the august Washington Post from the kind of artsy, sexual intimacy-related outrage that riles up teh gays.
The Post thus minimizes a significant intellectual history and cultural story by treating it as the pet gripe of a fringe, marginal and lesser other, a completely false presentation of recent history. Clough’s censorship of “Hide/Seek” was opposed by a broad coalition of groups and individuals, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Library Association, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the College Art Association. Gay critics such as Christopher Knight and the Post’s own Philip Kennicott wrote in opposition to Clough’s philistinism. Both Kennicott and I called for Clough’s resignation. Many art museums, even dozens, organized screenings of the censored Wojnarowicz, “Fire in My Belly.” The Museum of Modern Art, New York effectively expressed its opposition to the Smithsonian’s censorship by acquiring the work Clough ordered removed from the exhibition. The Smithsonian’s own Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden issued a statement distancing itself from Clough.
The Washington Post didn’t much notice any of this back in 2010-11. Apparently it still hasn’t.