Amid Call for Boycott Over Trustee, Whitney Biennial Artists on Why They Won’t Withdraw Works -ARTnews

Forensic Architecture and Praxis Films, Triple-Chaser (still), 2019. Forensic Architecture has requested the removal of the work from the exhibition in response to the Kanders controversy.


Last week, the ongoing controversy surrounding Warren B. Kanders, the vice chair of the Whitney Museum in New York who is the owner of a company that manufactures tear-gas canisters and other defense products, entered a new phase, as eight of the 75 artists in the Whitney Biennial requested the removal of their work from the show. Four of those artists—Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, Nicole Eisenman, and Nicholas Galanin—published a letter about their choice to take their pieces out of the exhibition in Artforum, writing, “We found ourselves in a difficult position: withdraw in protest or stay and abide a conflicted conscience. We decided to participate.”

Eddie Arroyo, Christine Sun Kim, Agustina Woodgate, and the collective Forensic Architecture soon followed suit with similar announcements. Responding to the first wave of pullouts, the Whitney’s director, Adam Weinberg, said in a statement, “While the Whitney is saddened by this decision, we will of course comply with the artists’ request.” (The show runs through September 22.)

The withdrawals, in the wake of the publication of an essay in Artforum by Hannah Black, Ciarán Finlayson, and Tobi Haslett that called for a total boycott of the show, have been the subject of fervent debate, and all eyes have been on the remaining participants, to see if others would join the exodus. Some among them have made a case for the importance of remaining in the exhibition.

Laura Ortman, a Brooklyn-based artist of White Mountain Apache descent who has a video in the show, told ARTnews that she would not pull her work from the show because Kanders should go, not her work. “Kanders must have the insight and conscience to kick himself out of the Whitney,” she said in an email, adding,…

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