Withdrawal from the Whitney

Withdrawal from the Whitney

Over the weekend seven artists have asked that the Whitney Museum remove their works from the current Whitney Biennial. No stranger to controversy, this year’s biennial began with protestors from the DTP movement. Panetta and Hockley two curators from the Whitney visited over 300 studios. Assembling one of the Whitney Biennial’s most diverse rosters of emerging and mid-career American artists. However, some of these artists feel the Whitney’s handling of the ethical controversy surrounding the board vice chairman Warren Kanders as a source of contention. Kanders is the chief executive of the company Safariland, which manufactures tear gas canisters. Artists including Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, Nicole Eisenman and Nicholas Galanin addressed a letter to the curators explaining their decision.

Merriem Bennani, Mixed Installation, Whitney Biennial, 2019

The letter comes just days after artists and writers Hannah Black, Ciarán Finlayson, and Tobi Haslett posted an essay, titled “The Tear Gas Biennial,”. Both essay and letter are available on Artforum’s website. Requesting that the pair present the letter to the board “to let them know the seriousness of the situation”.

Consequently, the Whitney agreed to remove the works. “The Whitney respects the opinions of all the artists it exhibits and stands by their right to express themselves freely,”. The museum’s director Adam Weinberg said in a statement over the weekend. “While Whitney is saddened by this decision, we will, of course, comply with the artists’ request.”

Letter to the Biennial

“We were angry when we learned of Kanders’ role as CEO of Safariland. A company that manufactures teargas and other weapons of repression. At the time, we had already accepted your invitation to participate in the Whitney Biennial and some of us were well into the fabrication of major pieces for this show,” Arunanondchai, Bennani, Eisenman, and Galanin say in the letter. “We found ourselves in a difficult position: withdraw in protest or stay and abide by a conflicted conscience. We decided to participate.”

“But the Museum’s continued failure to respond in any meaningful way to growing pressure from artists and activists has made our participation untenable,” the artists continue.

“The Museum’s inertia has turned the screw, and we refuse further complicity with Kanders and his technologies of violence,” Arunanondchai, Bennani, Eisenman, and Galanin say.

The Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz’s withdrew from participating in the biennial in February, three months before it opened, “in solidarity with the [museum’s staff]” over what he called “toxic philanthropy”. Consequently encouraging other artists to do the same.

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