Today, the Smithsonian concluded a two-day forum on the institution’s decision to remove a work of art from the National Portrait Gallery after a manufactured right-wing uproar.
The work, an edited version of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly, was part of Hide/Seek, an exhibit exploring the gay and lesbian experience in American art, which had come under attack from Religious Right groups and their allies in Congress. Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough made the decision to remove the Wojnarowicz work from the exhibit in early December, less than two days after right-wing groups started a campaign against it.
Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:
“The Smithsonian’s forum, featuring critics, curators and artists, was the right event to hold — but it was held over four months too late. Extremist right-wing groups created a faux controversy and were allowed to call the shots when it mattered, while supporters of free expression and gay rights were left to voice objections over four months after the decision to censor and over two months after the end of the exhibit.
“The Smithsonian is an institution for all Americans. As such, it should embrace controversy, welcome discussion, and work to reflect and celebrate the experiences and struggles of all people. This forum confirmed what we already knew: that this important exhibit was censored by bungling at the top. By quickly giving in to the demands of those intent on revising our common history and repressing the rights of others, while ignoring all other discussion, Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough did a huge disservice to the institution he leads and to free expression in the United States. In the wake of this manufactured controversy, it is important for the Smithsonian to create a robust anti-censorship policy and find a new leader who will defend that policy. The Smithsonian deserves a leader who is willing to fight for art, science, history, and for all Americans. And the American people deserve national museums that strive for truth, vibrant debate, and uncompromised inclusiveness – not ones that cater only to voices of fear and division.”
In advance of the the forum, PFAW President Michael Keegan published 10 questions on Huffington Post we thought should be asked of the panelists — read them here.