Wayne Clough has announced his retirement as the head of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Clough, whose official job title is secretary, will step down next October after six years of service. He was appointed in 2008, succeeding acting secretary Cristián Samper.
During his time at the Smithsonian, Clough oversaw the construction of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open its doors on D.C.’s National Mall in late 2015. He also led the renovation of the 1881 Arts and Industries Building (also on the Mall), which will reopen next September, as well as ongoing work at the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York. Under Clough’s leadership, the Smithsonian fundraised a record $223 million in 2012, and instituted its first comprehensive strategic plan, which aims to embrace biodiversity, world cultures, the universe and the American experience.
Despite these accomplishments, Clough’s tenure at the Smithsonian will perhaps be best remembered for his controversial decision to censor David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video, A Fire in My Belly, during the 2010 exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” The work had been widely criticized by religious groups and House Republican leaders, who were outraged by its depiction of ants crawling across Jesus’s crucified body.
Following A Fire in My Belly‘s removal from the show, a number of museums and galleries across the country protested by exhibiting the video, which was soon acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. An uncensored version of the exhibition travelled to the Brooklyn Museum in 2011. For his part, Clough was rebuked by the Association of Art Museum Directors as well as the Smithsonian’s board of regents, although the Institution’s leadership voiced their continued support of the director despite the incident.
In a press release, Clough reasserted his commitment to the Institution: “I will continue working with our dedicated staff in the coming year to keep moving the Smithsonian forward to be a self-reliant, vibrant, relevant organization.”
John W. McCarter Jr., the vice-chairman of the Smithsonian’s board of regents, will head the search committee for a new director.