Whitney Biennial Artists Demand Removal of Board Member Over Tear Gas Links

In further news: decline in arts industry hiring; call for MoMA to divest from private prison companies

Activists took over the lobby at the Whitney Museum of American Art to protest and demand the removal of the museum’s board of directors Vice Chairman Warren B. Kanders, 2019. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket

Activists took over the lobby at the Whitney Museum of American Art to protest and demand the removal of the museum’s board of directors Vice Chairman Warren B. Kanders, 2019. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket

Several artists, including many participating in this year’s Whitney Biennial, have called for the removal of Whitney Museum of American Art board member Warren B. Kanders. The demand for Kanders to step down stems from his ownership of Safariland, a weapons producer, which manufactured tear gas used on migrants at the US-Mexico border. More than half of the artists included in this year’s Biennial – alongside figures including Barbara Kruger, Nan Goldin, Hans Haacke, Andrea Fraser and Laura Poitras – have added their names to an open letter (originally published on 5 April) calling for Kanders’s resignation: ‘Alongside universities, cultural institutions like the Whitney are among the few spaces in public life today that claim to be devoted to ideals of education, creativity and dissent beyond the dictates of the market […] These institutions provide cover for the likes of Kanders as they profit from war, state violence, displacement, land theft, mass incarceration and climate disaster.’ Don’t miss Cody Delistraty writing on the Whitney’s choice: can a museum for ‘progressive artists’ have an arms manufacturer vice-chairman?

There has been a major decline in US art world hiring over the last year, according to a new report issued by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Artnet News reports that hiring in the arts industry has dropped 13.7% between 2018-2019 and the preceding year – the sharpest decrease of all industries. Overall there has been a drop of 2.9% in hiring – with distinct decline in other areas including design (6%) and education (5.9%).

Meanwhile an open letter is calling on New York’s MoMA and museum trustee Larry Fink to divest from private prison companies. The statement, which has gathered signatories including the artists Jumana Manna and Kader Attia and philosopher Achille Mbembe, began circulating at a conference held at MoMA – it draws attention to the museum’s links to pension fund Fidelity Investments which owns stock in private prison companies, and points to how Fink’s firm BlackRock invests in private prison operators. The letter states: ‘These prisons punish for profit, break up families and communities, detain immigrant children and impede visits. These prisons are racist, violent and routinely violate human rights. Detained migrants are denied due process. These prisons cut costs, deny medical care and serve barely edible food.’

In further announcements: Seoul-based Gallery Hyundai is opening a New York outpost – a private showroom in TriBeCa which will be inaugurated with a solo show by Kwak Duck-Jun; and Petzel gallery now represents artist Derek Fordjour with a solo exhibition scheduled for September 2020.

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