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Critic's Notebook: Smithsonian public forum on censorship? Not so much

February 24, 2011 |  5:12 pm

Berenice Abbott 1927 Janet Flanner AP NPG Kicking the can down the road is a time-honored Washington custom, designed to achieve one of two things: Let enough time pass that (a) an original cast of characters changes, or (b) people forget what the original issue was. The Smithsonian Institution has now kicked the censorship can down the road.

Last November, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough created a firestorm by bowing to a noisy pressure group and pulling a video-excerpt from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery that had been on view -- and critically praised -- for a month. For weeks he remained silent as protests against his action grew. Finally emerging in a few brief January interviews and public appearances, Clough announced that a public forum on the controversy would be held in April.

That forum is now scheduled for April 26-27 -- but don't expect much from it. A working draft of the schedule of panels obtained by The Times shows that the can has not just been kicked down the road, it's been booted into the underbrush.

You can read my full commentary on those developments here.

--Christopher Knight

Photo: Berenice Abbott, "Janet Flanner," 1927. Credit: National Portrait Gallery / Associated Press