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Despite rebuke, Smithsonian regents say they support Clough

January 31, 2011 |  4:22 pm

WASHINGTON — In a rebuke of the Smithsonian’s chief executive, the institution’s board of regents Monday moved to prevent the removal of controversial exhibits — like the portion of David Wojnarowicz's video depicting ants on a crucifix from a show at the National Portrait Gallery — without greater consultation but expressed confidence in Secretary Wayne Clough’s continued leadership.

"There are a number of things that, with 20-20 hindsight, probably could have been done differently," said John W. McCarter Jr., who chaired a panel to recommend ways to head off controversies like the one touched off by the Clough’s decision to pull the video.

Clough acted after House Republican leaders, whose support is critical to the Smithsonian’s funding, objected that the video was sacrilegious, but his action came under attack as artistic censorship.
McCarter, president and chief executive of the Field Museum in Chicago and a member of the Smithsonian board of regents, said Clough nonetheless enjoys the "enormous support" of the board.

The panel, in its recommendations to the board of regents, said the Smithsonian has an "obligation to produce exhibitions that may be controversial" but said that "in the absence of actual error, changes to exhibitions should not be made once an exhibition opens without meaningful consultation" with the leadership of the Board of Regents, among others. Officials noted that the board includes members of Congress.

"In anticipation of possibly controversial exhibitions, the Smithsonian should provide an opportunity for public input or reaction at pre-decisional exhibit planning phases," the panel recommended.

Patricia Q. Stonesifer, the board’s chair, said that regents watched the controversial video "A Fire in My Belly" but did not vote on whether the exhibit should have been removed. McCarter said in response to a question that he thought including the video in the "Hide and Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" exhibition was the right decision. 

Stonesifer said after the board meeting that "It’s clear that in order to fulfill our mission, there will be controversies in the future."

Clough, calling his decision to remove the artwork a "painful decision," said, "We need to engage more people … about what we’re doing." Noting that the board includes six members of Congress, he said, "We need to take better advantage of their thoughts … and to keep them informed. … We could have kept them better informed."

 "I’d like to think I’m a little wiser than I was six months ago," he said.


Complete Smithsonian coverage

Group protests art censorship at Smithsonian chief's speech in L.A.

Critic's notebook: Smithsonian chief digging a deeper hole


Above: Clough, Stonesifer and McCarter speak to reporters after the Smithsonian regents' meeting. Credit: Evan Vucci / Associated Press.

— Richard Simon


Comments () | Archives (6)

Art is dead.

Okay, the film was just boring.

Art is dead in the academies, always has been, always will be. They a re just too lazy and careerist to look elsewhere. No great artist has ever graduated from a fine art academy, period. Independent and responsible thought and exploration cannot operate in the belly of the beast of who who are the status quo.

This video never should have been pulled, but hardly censorship. No one has said to not show it, just responding to criticism too hastily. It is a public institution funded by the feds. Complaints have to be taken seriously, but this was more out of fear than real criticism. Slap on the wrist is appropriate. But the arts are but one small section of the Smithsonian, it has far more important aspects of American culture to oversee, not like American art has been all that good. This isn't Greece, Italy, France, Japan, India, or thankfully Iraq or Egypt.

Support the truly creative and vital Watts Towers, tear down the colorless, soulless, myopic Ivories.

One thing certain is that no National Endowment for the Arts exhibit would dare have any exhibit that in any way shape or form tended to demean or criticize the 'Holy Koran.' As opposed to full funding of exhibits such as 'Piss Christ' et cetera that are non-controversial.

For a national museum such as the Portrait Gallery, when a piece of art is going to generate a lot of bickering, it had better be really good art.

Alas that particular film was replete with cliches: how many more Jesi do I need to be shown in an art museum? Jesi are so 2-centuries-plus ago, when religious iconography spelled economic survival for many an artist.
And Jesi with disgusting stuff on them? so last-century.

Fortunately we needn't measure the Smithsonian's worth by the number of Jesi (Jesuses?) in its art museums nor by the quantity of unappetizing substance poured over said Jesi. The Smithsonian was CREATED by its FOUNDER as a SCIENCE museum. Now, please, everyone, we all need to help ensure the science at the Smithsonian continues to be free from religious and political bias, even with a Republican House, as this helps keep it an excellent institution that does what it was created to do.

Clough did the smart thing: in the face of Republican tyranny, he gave in on one rather decadent piece of crap, er, art, because, like a good leader, he knew what the priorities needed to be. Keep a piece of crap, or jeopardize the Smithsonian budget, and with it, the privilege of free entry for all, including thousands of BUSLOADS of public school children; the livelihoods of thousands of modestly-paid employees; etc, etc.? Lemme think about that one...

It is actually Yeshua, Isa in the Quran as he is considerd the most holy and pure of men. Jesus is a Hellenistic corruption as is Christos of Messiah. Isa is viewed as the greatest Prophet, anointed and untainted. But not the son of god, there can only be one.

And portraying Yeshua in profain situations after already having been crucified, the most horrible of deaths, is rather self absorbed, and just plain stupid.


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