Sunday, December 12, 2010

Smithsonian to Free Speech Supporters: Thanks, But We'd Rather Censor

Before we carried out our protest in the National Portrait Gallery, the first thing I (Mike B.) did was to email Smithsonian officials my concerns.

Now I have my answer. Martin Sullivan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, sent a mass email to all those who, like me, wrote to him urging the Smithsonian to reverse its decision to silence gay voices just because a few anti-gay groups mounted a pressure campaign based on hostility and false claims. Read the letter after the jump.

For the record, the person who made the decision to censor was Secretary of the Smithsonian Wayne Clough, not Martin Sullivan. Still, Sullivan seems to be taking the fall for Clough.

This is the non-statement Sullivan sent:
Thank you for expressing your concern about the deletion of David Wojnarowicz's video, "A Fire in My Belly," from the National Portrait Gallery's Hide/Seek exhibition, and your support of the exhibition's importance.

We've received thousands of e-mails and phone calls representing a mix of opinions. I want to assure you that your message has come through.

As you know, more than 100 art works are on view in the overall exhibition. More than a dozen works specifically address the tragic impact of AIDS. The exhibition continues to include two important works by David Wojnarowicz as well as a portrait of him by Peter Hujar. The art was assembled from the Portrait Gallery's permanent collection and from many other sources. It is presented together for the first time ever, thanks to generous lenders and private financial supporters.

We're grateful for that partnership and proud of the positive response from the many visitors who have experienced the exhibition. The exhibition catalogue is available both at the museum and from online retailers, and the show has a web component at

Additionally, I'd like to alert you to additional information that has been posted on our website at

I hope you will have the opportunity to visit the exhibition or its website, and see its catalogue.


Martin Sullivan
Translation: Thanks for getting in touch. Your message came through loud and clear; we're just ignoring it. The rest of the exhibit is still there, so that makes everything OK. Now let's all forget our troubles with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream. Oh, and visit our website.

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