Artists reverse their decision to remove artwork from the Whitney Biennial following Kanders’s resignation.
Installation view of the 2019 Whitney Biennial featuring Nicole Eisenman, Procession, 2019. Photo by Ron Amstutz, courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The eight artists who demanded the Whitney remove their work from the Biennial last week have rescinded their request following vice chairman of the board Warren Kanders’s resignation on Thursday. In direct response to Kanders’s departure, the artists, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, Nicole Eisenman, Nicholas Galanin, Eddie Arroyo, Agustina Woodgate, Christine Sun Kim and the collective Forensic Architecture will keep their works in the exhibit through September 22nd.
“We feel now the discussion about the future of our institutions could start,” the artists said in a statement released by Miami gallery, Spinello Projects. Bob Trafford from the collective Forensic Architecture, which produced a video for the Biennial featuring artificial intelligence that could trace Safariland tear gas canisters around the world, told Artsy:
The Whitney is now in the position to lead what could be a very productive discussion in the international dialogue about how these institutions represent communities they serve, how they put in place structures of transparency, and how they ensure that the people they bring onto these boards are people that these communities want to serve.
The Museum had come under fire for its affiliation with Kanders, who owns Safariland, a military and police equipment company that produced tear gas used against migrants along the U.S.-Mexico Border as well as other weapons and defense paraphernalia used at protest sites and battle grounds around the world.
On Friday, July 19th, in a letter to Biennial curators Rujeko Hockley and Jane Panetta, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, Nicole Eisenman, and Nicholas Galanin had requested the museum take down their works from the show which had opened in May. “The Museum’s continued failure to respond in any meaningful way to growing pressure from artists and activists has made our participation untenable,” they wrote.
The letter from the artists followed months of protests against the Whitney’s ties to Kanders and his company, including weekly protests organized by Decolonize This Place, a letter from Whitney staff, and the artist Michael Rakowitz’s early withdrawal from the show in December in protest. After last week’s letter, Eddie Arroyo, Agustina Woodgate, Christine Sun Kim and the collective Forensic Architecture, also requested their works be removed in solidarity.
Thursday afternoon, the Whitney Board thanked Kanders in a public memo for his thirteen years as a trustee. Adam Weinberg, director of the museum, and Whitney president Richard DeMartini expressed gratitude for the financial and art contributions from Kanders and his wife, Allison. The board did not acknowledge the controversy or protests, some of which took place during the Biennial’s opening.
Update: July 26th, 2019
Bob Trafford of Forensic Architecture spoke with Artsy regarding the collective’s participation in the biennial. The article has been updated to reflect that information.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the date of the letter asking for the removal of artworks from the Biennial. It was July 19th, not June 19th.