Protest over art censorship will greet Smithsonian chief before L.A. talk Thursday

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Protesters carrying two custom-made artworks plan to greet Wayne Clough, the embattled secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, with a ‘funeral procession for freedom of expression’ Thursday, when he has a long-planned speaking engagment at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Acting on Nov. 30, the same day Republican leaders criticized the work as anti-Christian and threatened budgetary consequences for the Smithsonian because it briefly showed ants crawling over a crucifix, Clough ordered the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video, “A Fire in My Belly,” from a show about gay-themed portraiture at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The federal government provides the bulk of the Smithsonian’s $1-billion budget.


Clough’s talk for the Town Hall Los Angeles speakers series is titled ‘New Perspectives at the Smithsonian.It was booked months before the furor over ‘A Fire in My Belly.’

Carol Wells, founder and executive director of L.A.’s Center for the Study of Political Graphics, said Tuesday that the 11 a.m. procession outside the hotel, at 506 S. Grand Ave., will protest both Clough’s act of censorship and the recent decision by Jeffrey Deitch, director of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, to paint over an anti-war protest mural by the Italian street artist Blu that the museum had commissioned on a wall of its Geffen Contemporary building.

One of the protest pieces will ‘make reference to the cross that was in the censored video’ at the Smithsonian, Wells said; the other will be ‘a dollar bill-covered coffin’ -- replicating the motif that got Blu’s work removed lest its proximity to a nearby veterans hospital and World War II veterans memorial offend neighbors’ sensibilities. Wells said that the protest, sponsored by her group and LA RAW, an ad-hoc group that earlier this month organized a protest against the MOCA mural’s removal, aims to reverse a trend toward ‘people doing a lot of self censorship because they’re afraid of what people, including funders, might think. The whole point of art is to be provocative and informative and inspirational.’


Critic’s notebook: Smithsonian chief digging a deeper hole

Smithsonian chief, embroiled in video censorship controversy, to speak in L.A. Jan. 20

-- Mike Boehm

Above: Last month, protesters expressed their opposition to the removal of Wojnarowicz’s video from the exhibition on the steps of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin