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David Gergen advising Smithsonian regents

January 20, 2011 |  3:17 pm

Gergen Lukas Jackson Reuters David Gergen, the well-known Washington political advisor who worked for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, is advising the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution in the aftermath of the censorship controversy that erupted late last year when a video-excerpt was pulled from a critically admired exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The museum is one of 19 under the Smithsonian's jurisdiction.

Gergen, 67, has a reputation for helping politicians navigate the treacherous shoals of official Washington, as well as deal with shifting tides of public opinion. After nearly two months of silence, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough has been speaking publicly this week about his decision to remove the artwork following complaints from two powerful Republican congressmen.

Neither Clough nor the congressmen had actually seen the 1987 video, which relates artist David Wojnarowicz's response to the AIDS epidemic, before the complaints were made and the decision came to take it down.

Clough's first public appearance, greeted by a small and orderly band of two dozen protesters outside the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, came at a Town Hall Los Angeles luncheon Thursday.

Following remarks, Clough confirmed that Gergen had been in touch with Smithsonian regents, at their request. Gergen's involvement was first reported today on the blog Modern Art Notes. Clough declined to be more specific about his role, except to say that advice was being sought in advance of a planned April forum on the issue.

"We don't want the Smithsonian to back away from telling all Americans' stories," Clough said.

A full report on the Town Hall LA presentation, which saw one protester escorted from the room after shouting "Shame on you for censoring the exhibition," will be posted later today.

--Christopher Knight

Photo: David Gergen; Credit: Reuters