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ants crawling on a crucifix

December 24, 2010

[Washington Post] Three weeks after the Smithsonian Institution ignited fury in the museum world by censoring one of its own exhibitions – removing a video that appeared in the National Portrait Gallery’s groundbreaking exhibition of gay portraiture, “Hide/Seek” – the best option for undoing the damage remains the resignation of the man who made the decision.

Curators of the critically acclaimed exhibition, although lamenting the decision, continue to defend the Smithsonian in public, and the National Portrait Gallery’s director, Martin Sullivan, continues to bear much of the brunt of the criticism. And yet Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough has gone missing.

Clough’s defense of a decision that will almost certainly mark the nadir of his tenure has been limited to internal memos. By withdrawing from the public debate about what has been tactically, strategically and historically a disaster for the institution, he has called into question whether he shares the fundamental values of openness and engagement that should define the Smithsonian.

Given that reinstating the video – a work by David Wojnarowicz that included a brief scene of ants crawling on a crucifix – is off the table, the best option for the Smithsonian is one that seems paradoxical. The curators of “Hide/Seek,” and the leaders of the National Portrait Gallery, should take control of the complex symbolism of the debate and do the unthinkable: Remove yet another work from the exhibition. (read)


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