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Posted at 5:30 PM ET, 12/ 3/2010

AAMD Criticizes Portrait Gallery's Action

By Jacqueline Trescott

The Association of Art Museum Directors, which oversees practices in North American museums and develops guidelines for art museums, issued a response Friday to the controversy at the National Portrait Gallery.

The Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, removed a video from its current exhibition "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" on Tuesday after it received protests about its content from Capitol Hill, Catholic and conservative critics. The video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz contained an 11 second view of ants crawling on a Christ-like figure. Local artists have marched outside the museum to show their disapproval of the action.

The AAMD statement said: "It is extremely regrettable that the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, a major American art museum with a long history of public service in the arts, has been pressured into removing a work of art from its exhibition "Hide/Seek."

"More disturbing than the Smithsonian's decision to remove this work of art is the cause: unwarranted and uninformed censorship from politicans 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.

"Discouraging the exchange of ideas undermines the principles of freedom of expression, plurality and tolerance on which our nation was founded. This includes the forcible withdrawal of a work of art from within an exhibition--and the threatening of an institution's funding sources.

"The Smithsonian Institution is one of the nation's largest organizations dedicated to the dissemination and diffusion of knowledge--an essential element of democracy in America. We urge members of Congress and the public to continue to sustain and support the Smithsonian's activities, without the political pressure that curtails freedom of speech."

Bethany Bentley, public affairs specialist for the Portrait Gallery, responded: "We are not taking anything else down in the exhibit until Feb. 13 when the exhibit closes."

By Jacqueline Trescott  | December 3, 2010; 5:30 PM ET
Categories:  Jacqueline Trescott, Museums, Smithsonian  | Tags:  Association of Art Museum Directors, national portrait gallery  
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