Art and politics have always been intermingled. Now the prestigious Whitney in New York City is in the cross hairs of art world politics.
Excerpted from The Guardian 7.21.2019
The removals from the prestigious survey of American art come after 46 of 75 artists picked for the show signed a letter in March demanding the resignation of Warren Kanders, a vice-president of the Whitney board with ties to a company that distributes equipment including teargas that the letter said has been used on migrants at the Mexican border, Palestinians in Gaza, protesters in Egypt and Puerto Rico, and against Native Americans protesting a pipeline at Standing Rock.
Many still exhibited but the protest was joined by more than 100 artists including Barbara Kruger and Nan Goldin, as well as dozens of curators, critics and theorists.
The artist Marilyn Minter, long rumored to be a member of Guerrilla Girls, a feminist activist group that has protested gender and ethnic bias in culture since the 1980s, said: “Nan Goldin is my hero.”
“I fucking hate the art world,” she added.
In a letter to the Whitney curators, the six artists who removed their work on Friday and Saturday (another cancelled his involvement before the show opened) said they were angered and conflicted by Kanders’ connections to Safariland, a distribution company.
Eddie Arroyo, Agustina Woodgate, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, Nicole Eisenman, Nicholas Galanin and Christine Sun Kim said the Whitney board’s failure to meaningfully respond to the March letter had forced their hand.
“Growing pressure from artists and activists has made our participation untenable,” read their letter, which was obtained by ArtForum. “The museum’s inertia has turned the screw, and we refuse further complicity with Kanders and his technologies of violence.”
Also on Saturday, the London-based collective Forensic Architecturerequested that a 10-minute video called “Triple-Chaser”, made with Praxis Films, which is run by the film-maker Laura Poitras, be taken down. Forensic Architecture said one of its researchers found what they believe to be direct evidence linking the firm to violence classified by the United Nations in a recent report as a potential war crime.
Art institutions are increasingly exposed over the sources of their funding. In June, Yana Peel, the chief executive of the Serpentine Galleries in London, stepped down after she was linked in a Guardian report to the Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO, which has been criticised by human rights organisations.
Protests organised by Goldin at the Metropolitan and Guggenheim museums in New York, and regarding the Tate in London and the Louvre in Paris, with the anti-opioid group Pain, have forced several institutions to refuse funding from the Sackler family, whose firm, Purdue Pharma, has been accused of a role in triggering the opioid-abuse crisis. In March, some Sackler philanthropic groups said they would suspend giving.
Michael Quinn, a lawyer who works with Goldin and Pain, told the Guardian artists were merely stepping into a vacuum “created by government and corporate leaders’ failure to address some very basic societal problems”.
“I see artists increasingly stepping in as the voice of change,” he said. “This is clear from in the political work being exhibited.”