Sometimes composing a forceful, principled statement takes time. This just in: the Association of Art Museum Directors’ statement on the “Hide/Seek” controversy at the National Portrait Gallery (online here):
It is extremely regrettable that the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, a major American art museum with a long history of public service in the arts, has been pressured into removing a work of art from its exhibition “Hide/Seek.”
More disturbing than the Smithsonian’s decision to remove this work of art is the cause: unwarranted and uninformed censorship from politicians and other public figures, many of whom, by their own admission, have seen neither the exhibition as a whole or this specific work.
The AAMD believes that freedom of expression is essential to the health and welfare of our communities and our nation. In this case, that takes the form of the rights and opportunities of art museums to present works of art that express different points of view.
Discouraging the exchange of ideas undermines the principles of freedom of expression, plurality and tolerance on which our nation was founded. This includes the forcible withdrawal of a work of art from within an exhibition-and the threatening of an institution’s funding sources.
The Smithsonian Institution is one of the nation’s largest organizations dedicated to the dissemination and diffusion of knowledge-an essential element of democracy in America. We urge members of Congress and the public to continue to sustain and support the Smithsonian’s activities, without the political pressure that curtails freedom of speech.
Saying that it is “extremely regrettable” that the NPG “has been pressured” to remove the video falls just short of saying that it shouldn’t have removed it.
The National Portrait Gallery does not belong to AAMD. The institution that it shares a building with—the Smithsonian American Art Museum—does.