As pressure for embattled Smithsonian Institution secretary G. Wayne Clough to step down continues to mount, the D.C. museum complex's governing board of regents is meeting today — and when they do, a phalanx of protesters will be waiting. Organized by ART+, the New York City-based art action group dedicated to fighting censorship and homophobia, the demonstration adds to a chorus of calls in the press this weekend for Clough's resignation, arguing that his decision to censor David Wojnarowicz's video in the National Portrait Gallery's "Hide/Seek" show renders him unfit to lead the Smithsonian.
Today's protests, set for 1 p.m., will see demonstrators gather at the Smithsonian metro station and march to the Castle, the Smithsonian headquarters. According to ART+'s Web site, the protesters are demanding that the regents return Wojnarowicz's video to the National Portrait Gallery exhibition and fire Clough. "We want to be there to let them know that his decision was wrong and it will not stand," the statement proclaims. "Clough's actions are a clear threat to this country's largest cultural institution, the Smithsonian."
ART+ has organized the action in conjunction with D.C.'s Transformer gallery — which previously held a very successful anti-censorship rally at the Smithsonian — and the Museum of Censored Art, the name of a guerrilla art platform formed by activists Michael Blasenstein and Michael Iacovone that has been playing Wojnarowicz's censored "A Fire in My Belly" in a trailer outside the National Portrait Gallery.
ART+ already held a "surprise action" this morning, according to the group's leader, William Dobbs. Protesters passed out a leaflet as staff and regents arrived at the Castle. The flier included an image of Cough with ants crawling on him and his face barred out, accompanied by the slogan "CLOUGH MUST GO."
The protest comes after the recent announcement that the board of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Park, a Smithsonian affiliate, had issued an open letter decrying the removal of the Wojnarowicz video. The Hirshhorn's letter states that the removal "raises crucial questions — for us, for our visitors, artists, museum supporters, and colleagues — about the role and responsibility of publicly supported museums to engage with complex and sometimes sensitive topics."
In what amounts to a direct rebuke to Clough, the Hirshhorn's board states in their letter that "we are deeply troubled by the precedent the Institution's leadership has set with its decision. We believe that bowing to pressure with regard to the works on view in its galleries harms the integrity of the individual Smithsonian units and the Institution as a whole." According to the New York Times, Clough plans to address the Hirshhorn letter and "other responses" in a briefing following today's regents meeting.
At the board meeting itself, an agenda states that the controversy will be taken up via an item that is optimistically titled "Hide/Seek: A Forward Looking Review." According to earlier reports, today's regents meeting will also be the venue where the verdict of an "outside committee" that the board had previously met with to review "how the incident unfolded and what the institution could learn from it" will be revealed.
Meanwhile, Clough faced at least two more high-profile calls for his resignation in the last few days. Modern Art Notes blogger Tyler Green pressed his case that Clough should resign in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, stating that the secretary's decision to censor Wojnarowicz's work had damaged the Smithsonian's ability to carry out its mission. Michael B. Keegan, president of People for the American Way, took to the Huffington Post to press a similar case: "Clough's bad decision — and his mishandling of its aftermath — has not faded away," he said. "Instead, it will continue to distract from the Smithsonian's crucial work as long as he remains at its head."
Whether the Smithsonian's regents will heed such calls remains to be seen. Stay tuned.