Two Museum Associations Offer Opposing Statements Surrounding National Portrait Gallery Controversy

The conversation is still going full-bore surrounding last week’s controversial move by the Smithsonian when they pulled a piece by David Wojnarowicz from a National Portrait Gallery exhibition following outcry from several groups who believed it was anti-Christian. Two large museum groups have entered the fray, the Association of Art Museum Directors, who issued a statement (pdf) chiding the Smithsonian for bowing to these outside pressures, and the American Association of Museums, who went the other direction and also issued a brief statement on their site, saying they stand by the museum’s decision. Later their president, Ford Bell, told the Washington Post, “We concur that it should not distract from the other thoughtful and provocative work in this important exhibition. However, we regret the controversy surrounding the excellent show.” That quote appears in a larger piece about the on-going controversy, which includes information on last Thursday night’s protest put together by the Transformer Gallery, who had gotten permission to show Wojnarowicz’s piece after it had been booted from the National Portrait Gallery. The gallery’s site has a great deal more information about the protest, as well as a few photos and video of the event, as well as a statement of their own to the Smithsonian. Here’s a portion of the message from the Association of Art Museum Directors:

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.