Smithsonian chief Clough says his decision to remove AIDS video was hasty but not censorship


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G. Wayne Clough, head of the Smithsonian Institution, acknowledged Thursday that he acted too quickly before deciding Nov. 30 to remove a controversial video from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

In an interview after a long-planned speaking engagement in downtown L.A., Clough said the decision to remove David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 AIDS-protest video, ‘A Fire in My Belly,’ on the same day that two top Republican congressmen had complained that the exhibition offended Christian sensibilities, was ‘the most painful thing I’ve ever done,’ but denied it could properly be called censorship.


Clough said threats of budgetary consequences by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) played into his decision, but a primary concern was preventing a media pile-on that would ‘hijack’ the exhibition by turning the discussion away from the art on display and make it an excuse for a heated and polarizing debate of tangential issues.

Clough spoke proudly of ‘Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture’ being the first major museum exhibition devoted primarily to gay and lesbian artists’ sensibilities. The full story from the interview is here.

In his 20-minute talk at the downtown Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Clough noted the protesters who had marched outside over his removal of the video.

‘To those folks who were demonstrating outside this venue, I offer my support for their expression of free speech,’ Clough said. ‘I attended Berkeley during the 1960s, so I know something about protests [He earned a Ph.D. in civil engineering there in 1969.] They are valuable in gathering attention to issues.’


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-- Mike Boehm