Art museum directors issue stern Smithsonian rebuke


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The Assn. of Art Museum Directors today issued an unusual, strongly worded rebuke to the Smithsonian Institution and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., for censoring a work of art included in the critically acclaimed exhibition ‘Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.’

The show opened in October and continues until Feb. 13.


Earlier this week, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough created a storm of protest when he ordered the removal of a short excerpt of “A Fire in My Belly,” a 30-minute video made in 1987 by David Wojnarowicz (1954-92). The video is a searing meditation on aspects of the AIDS pandemic. The decision to remove it came in the wake of calls by House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to dismantle the privately funded exhibition.

The statement from North America’s largest art museum professional organization described the Smithsonian’s decision as having resulted from political pressure:

‘More disturbing than the Smithsonian’s decision to remove this work of art is the cause: unwarranted and uninformed censorship from politicians and other public figures, many of whom, by their own admission, have seen neither the exhibition as a whole or this specific work.

‘The AAMD believes that freedom of expression is essential to the health and welfare of our communities and our nation. In this case, that takes the form of the rights and opportunities of art museums to present works of art that express different points of view.’

The statement puts the AAMD at odds with Ford W. Bell, president of the American Assn. of Museums, who told the Washington Post Wednesday that pulling the art was the right thing to do. The AAM represents a wide array of nonprofit institutions, including history, science and art museums.

The AAMD represents 198 art museum directors in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The full statement on the Smithsonian’s decision to censor the exhibition can be found on the AAMD website.


--Christopher Knight


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