The true villains in the 'Hide/Seek' story
Clarification: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this letter neglected to note the writer's past association with the Smithsonian Institution. The version below has been corrected.
What hectoring faux bravery Philip Kennicott exhibited in the Dec. 24 Style article “Smithsonian chief’s next call should be to step down.”
It was the arrival of the new Republican Huns and the threat of severe budget cuts by the presumed new speaker of the House that caused G. Wayne Clough, the secretary of the Smithsonian, to slightly diminish the “Hide/Seek” exhibition, featuring gay portraiture, at the National Portrait Gallery. Such budget cuts could lead to the end of decades-long careers and crush research, whereas the show and its message of sexual difference are still up for the full planned run.
Protecting the Smithsonian’s mission of 160 years-plus of knowledge expansion is heroic, not craven. Keeping wisdom going sometimes requires knowing that the better part of valor, if not the most dramatic, is indeed a virtue.
Removing a tangential, AIDS-related film from the exhibition was unfortunate, but AIDS, while tragic, is a disease, not a gay issue, per se, the theme of this exhibition. If anything, AIDS has made lesbian and gay issues more public, not the hidden-in-plain-sight concept so wonderfully exhibited at the Portrait Gallery. The curators and leadership at the Smithsonian are to be commended on their intelligent and beautiful presentation of a long overdue subject and their skill at keeping it before the public.
If you want to attack the proper villains in this story, look to the small-minded and bellicose Catholic League and Republican leadership, not those who created a landmark illustration of gay and lesbian history.
The writer is a former employee of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.
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