On December 20th, 2010, I wrote this follow-up to my #CloughMustGo post. I never had a chance to give it a final edit and held off on posting it. Now that HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture has opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, I decided to come back and release this further explanation of my initial call for the dismissal of Smithsonian Director Wayne Clough.
Brooklyn, December 20, 2010 – After a weekend morning of watching great Smithsonian videos, I’ve seen a Dr. G. Wayne Clough who is a distinguished, avuncular gentleman whom you’d want to get a beer with… who speaks eloquently about the unique educational service only museums (especially science and natural history museums) can provide. He’s also a big supporter of the educational resource that all museums can be. I’d want to play poker with him too. I’m trying to be transparent about a political strategy I’m using with #CloughMustGo. Basically, the average person has no equivalent, immediate power to, say, a U.S. Representative. To try to make a change, you must engage more powerful voices. In politics, which I usually avoid for exactly this reason, the way to get heard and get attention is to call for something extreme. It seems to me this is just what’s happened to start this whole issue.
The Catholic League, an organization that believes there should be no public funding for museums of any sort, is very uncomfortable with art being shown that depicts homosexuality, and to get that art taken off view, they inflammatorily say it is “hate speech.” The Smithsonian, reacting out of the fear that people will say, “My tax dollars are supporting hate speech at the Smithsonian,” pulls down artwork that has been willfully misinterpreted by the Catholic League to substantiate a specious claim (that the artwork is “hate speech”). What further complicates the situation is that artwork from the 80s and 90s that deals with AIDS has become an emblem of a horrible tragedy in US history. This particular tragedy is one that has been used by some to disparage gay people in the U.S., which I hope is as appalling to you as it is to me. I believe one of two things happened: either Clough handed down the decision, or NGA Director Martin E. Sullivan made the decision and Clough is admirably taking the heat. For the sake of politics, I have to take Clough as a man of his word when he says the decision was ultimately his.
Another thing I learned watching those videos on youtube is that Clough does not rhyme with “though,” but is more like “cough” or “bluff.” Speaking of which, let’s get back to poker. The reason I’d like to play poker with Wayne is not because playing poker with a guy named “Wayne” has a keen, crazy-raisin’ appeal, but because even when short-stacked by far, you can bluff Wayne Clough and he’ll fold. That’s why #CloughMustGo has been cancelled and replaced with #Let’sBluffClough!
In the end, #LetsBluffClough didn’t last very long and was probably too unwieldy to explain and have catch on. I certainly never meant any harm to the man himself, but thought it was very important to make a strong statement about the kind of leadership we need for museums in Washington.