Update: As of July 26, Warren B. Kanders has resigned from the board of the Whitney Museum, according to the NYT. It’s unclear now whether the eight artists and collectives that withdrew from the Biennial late last week will move forward in removing their artwork on August 2, as was scheduled. Meanwhile, six other artists have announced their intention to remain in the showcase.
Over the weekend, eight artists whose work is showcased in this year’s Whitney Biennial have called for their pieces to be removed from the museum, citing one board member’s ties to supplying tear gas and live ammunition to countries currently in political crises, including the U.S.
According to Artforum, even after months of protests from artists and other scholars, the Whitney Museum has yet to force the resignation of Warren B. Kanders, vice-chair of the board and CEO of global weapons manufacturer Safariland. His products have been used to squelch protests in at least 13 countries, leading the major art event to earn the nickname, “The Tear Gas Biennial.” In an open letter to the biennial’s curators first published on Artforum, the first group of four artists shared their reasons for withdrawing their work:
“We care deeply about the Whitney. Over the years, many shows at the Museum have inspired and informed our art. We were angry when we learned of Kanders’s role as CEO of Safariland, a company that manufactures tear gas and other weapons of repression. At the time, we had already accepted your invitation to participate in the Whitney Biennial and were all well into fabrication of major pieces for this show. We found ourselves in a difficult position: withdraw in protest or stay and abide 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 Museum’s inertia has turned the screw, and we refuse further complicity with Kanders and his technologies of violence.”
Among the eight artists to denounce the Biennale was the University of London-based research group Forensic Architecture, which uses architectural spatial analysis and forensic techniques to study human rights violations around the world. Hyperallergic reported that the studio and its partner Praxis Filmes has asked the Whitney to replace its 10-minute video Triple-Chaser, which traces the spread of tear gas and bullets through companies like Safariland, with a new film that shows incriminating evidence that Kanders is directly linked to a bullet company that’s been selling products to the Israeli Military Industry. The New York Times dually noted that Kanders’ supply of tear-gas grenades have been allegedly used during protests at not only the Israeli-Palestinian border in Gaza, but also at United States-Mexico border, in Ferguson, Missouri, and at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles both North and South Dakota.
Forensic Architecture Says It Has Found Bullet Linking Whitney Vice Chair to Violence in Gaza, Withdraws from Biennial https://t.co/12GWIy4J0k
— 艾未未 Ai Weiwei (@aiww) July 21, 2019
Forensic Architecture and its founder Eyal Weizman have not commented on the news yet, but Whitney director Adam D. Weinberg, released a statement on Friday saying the museum will follow through with the artists’ requests, according to the New York Times.
“The Whitney respects the opinions of all the artists it exhibits and stands by their right to express themselves freely. While the Whitney is saddened by this decision, we will of course comply with the artists’ request.”
It’s unclear exactly when the pieces will be removed from the exhibition, but it will likely happen quickly as the Biennale is set to close in two months. So far, work from the remaining 67 exhibitors will stay on view in the showcase through September 22.
After this article was published Forensic Architecture released an official statement on its withdrawal writing:
“As a result of our findings, and in solidarity with Palestinian resistance, Forensic Architecture and Praxis Films together believe our position within the Biennial is no longer tenable. We continue to demand that Kanders is removed from his position on the Whitney’s board of trustees.”