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Posted at 1:33 PM ET, 01/31/2011

Protesters call for resignation of Smithsonian's Clough (audio)

By Jacqueline Trescott
art
Demonstrators walk outside the Smithsonian's headquarters in Washington. (AP)
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Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough. (AP)

About 30 protesters rallied outside the Smithsonian Castle in a call for the Smithsonian to redress what some have characterized the institution's biggest blunder since controversies over the lavish spending of previous Secretary Lawrence M. Small, and the uproar over the display of the Enola Gay bomber.

The protests,organized by ART+, a New York City-based group that fights censorship and homophobia, drew dozens of artists and freedom of expression advocates to the Mall.

After complaints from conservative politicians and groups that a video in "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture," was sacrilegious, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough ordered "A Fire in My Belly," by gay artist David Wojnarowicz, removed. The action was taken, he said, to remove a distraction from the groundbreaking show about gender identity and sexuality, the first for a national museum. The decision was immediately criticized by artists and arts supporters, some of whom held an early protest outside the site of the show at the National Portrait Gallery.

For two months Smithsonian regents, executives, museum directors and staff have been questioning the decision and the extent of the damage it has done to the Smithsonian.

And almost everyone has had an opinion.

In an unusual act on Friday, the board of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden issued an open letter, saying they were "deeply troubled by the precedent" of the November decision.

People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, said Clough had given into the right-wing voices and should step down.

"In making the decision to remove a controversial work of art from one of the Smithsonian's museums, and bungling the institution's response since its removal, Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough has shown that he cannot adequately uphold the mission and the legacy of this American institution," the group's statement said.

The group also praised the Smithsonian and the Portrait Gallery for its decision to present "Hide/Seek" in the first place.

The video "A Fire in My Belly," by the late David Wojnarowicz was created in 1987 to show the pain and sorrow that the AIDS epidemic was creating, especially in the gay community. The segment that the museum showed had a short segment showing ants crawling on a crucifix.

In interviews Clough said he stood by his decision but he probably acted too quickly. He announced that the Smithsonian would have a public forum in the spring to review the episode. People for the American Way called that answer "a woefully inadequate response."

A number of galleries and museums decided to show the video and the Museum of Modern Art, an important repository for film and video, acquired the entire film for its collection.

Trescott describes the scene:

Listen!

Organizer Bill Dobbs talks with Post reporter Marie Oliver:

Listen!

Protesters chant for Clough's removal:

Listen!

More on this story:

Video: A clip from the Wojnarowicz work

Smithsonian chief says banned video a work of art

Reaction to National Portrait Gallery's ants-and-crucifix controversy

Smithsonian removes controversial art (news, photos, video)

By Jacqueline Trescott  | January 31, 2011; 1:33 PM ET
 
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Comments

What can you say? This is a taxpayer supported organization. If the protestors understood that a Republican Congress can forget to include funds for the Smithsonian if it doesn't observe "some" community standard --- that being a standard that the MAJORITY of Americans embrace, not just some artsy activists in several big cities --- they might think twice about asking the guy who has to testify on the Hill for his money to resign.

But that would require rational thinking, instead of emotion driven acting out.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | January 31, 2011 4:40 PM | Report abuse

30 protestors, huh?

Posted by: lingering_lead | January 31, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse

What would happen if I walked around the protester with a sign bearing ants on Mohamed or holocaust victims. I am sick of the double standard, you can't look funny at the Jews or Muslims but can bash Chistianity.

Posted by: Mark32 | January 31, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

This is a taxpayer supported organization...the Smithsonian if it doesn't observe "some" community standard --- that being a standard that the MAJORITY of Americans embrace, not just some artsy activists in several big cities.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10

-----------------------------------

What happens when the majority of Americans are idiots (like yourself)?

Its a tyranny of obese, religious, suv driving, nascar-watchers.

Posted by: kenk33 | January 31, 2011 5:36 PM | Report abuse

-30- That's all they could get. This certainly does not reach the outrage of the Enola Gay dispute.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | January 31, 2011 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Sacrilege is the argument against a display in a public museum? That's a word that belongs in a church -- not in what is supposed to be the secular world of politics. Of course, if politics were secular then there would be no argument about public funding of abortion. So the Roman Catholic church gets to decide what is proper and what isn't within secular society. Sounds fair to Rome.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | January 31, 2011 6:30 PM | Report abuse

I see this meme popping up regularly, but it is a bit of a straw man. The arguments of those who are protesting the video's removal center around the idea of free expression trumping sensitivity to religious beliefs/dogma. Do you honestly believe that these protesters come down on the side of those calling for the head of the Danish cartoonist who drew Mohammed? Give me a break. Let's keep the debate honest....you don't like the video because it offends your personal religious beliefs. That is fine, but remember we live in a pluralistic society, and we all need to accept that there are ideas we may not agree with. You don't like the video, don't go see it.

_________________________________________________________

What would happen if I walked around the protester with a sign bearing ants on Mohamed or holocaust victims. I am sick of the double standard, you can't look funny at the Jews or Muslims but can bash Chistianity.


Posted by: dresden | January 31, 2011 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Oh no, don't take away the 14 foot photograph of the dead AIDS guy! Anything but that.

And now the Hirshhorn is unhappy. What would we ever do without the Hirshhorn?

(No dead AIDS patients were used in the making of this comment.)

Posted by: blasmaic | January 31, 2011 6:43 PM | Report abuse

F()<K religion.

Posted by: jeffc6578 | January 31, 2011 6:53 PM | Report abuse

This is just a little taste of what you get when you let the right-wing tea-bagger republican "Christian" taliban in the door - just wait until they get enough power to subvert the Constitution and install a "Christian" theocrasy; when that happens, those 30 protester will be stoned in the public square - for real!

Posted by: jeffc6578 | January 31, 2011 6:58 PM | Report abuse

The problem is that the piece was pulled for the wrong reason. I didn't think it was offensive. I did, however, think it should have been removed because it was bad art. My 8-year old can do better with a Flip videocam.

Posted by: RepealObamacareNow | January 31, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Good to see jeffc6578 and kenk33 injecting some civility into this discussion.

"Civility for thee, but not for me" appears to be their motto.

Posted by: asdf2 | January 31, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

HIDE/SEEK - Difference and Desire in American Portraiture - One man from the Catholic League got excited about this exhibit and called a reporter and involved some Congressmen (who never viewed the exhibit) The Congressmen scored for votes with their voters back home.This was about fear...fear by men who felt uneasy with homosexual artists and subject matter. We also had the fear of loss of funds to keep the roofs on our many Smithsonian buildings from leaking. 34 foundations and friends of the Portrait Gallery made the exhibit possible. The time is near for the public to pay to enter museums. Those who are fearful of what they might see do not have to enter art museums..The National Zoo might work...the Botanical Garden. And so it goes. We have nothing to fear, but, yes, fear itself!

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | January 31, 2011 8:54 PM | Report abuse

I do not understand the reference to the Enola Gay exhibition in this piece. I, and thousands of others, visited the Enola Gay exhibit and did not see or hear protestors. I did not remember anyone calling for the resignation of any Smithsonian officials. Perhaps history, defined as something that really happened, is less subjective than protest art, defined as something that has to be explained by experts to the unwashed masses.

It looks like the correct outcome was obtained when private funds were used by a private institution to purchase and display art that was offensive, or simply pointless or artless, in the eyes of many. In any event, the Smithsonian makes thousands of decisions about what would be of interest to its audiences of visitors and has probably made a correct one here, measured by the vast number of protestors to the decision.

Posted by: ralphgrutzmacher | January 31, 2011 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Hey, the reason for the anguish in the gay community is because too many of their members refused to use condoms during the height of the epidemic. His paean for the gay community really belongs in the museum of natural history. As an exhibit on the proof of Darwinism.

Posted by: greatmag | February 7, 2011 3:04 PM | Report abuse

What happens when a majority of Americans are idiots? Simple, you finance your lunacy out of your own pocket.

Posted by: greatmag | February 7, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

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