Artists Asked to Withhold Content for 2019 Whitney Biennial as Act of Solidarity

On Wednesday, January 23, W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) issued an invitation to the artists selected for the Whitney 2019 Biennial asking that they show their solidarity with Whitney employees by withholding their work until the demands of the employees expressed in a November 2018 letter are met.

This ask continues the action initiated last year when over 100 Whitney employees expressed concern over the presence of Warren B. Kanders (owner of Safariland, a defense manufacturer and supplier) as Vice Chairman.

In their invitation, W.A.G.E. says the following,

“Unlike artists, from whom dissent is expected, dissent by museum workers is carefully managed and in the case of visitor-facing staff might easily lead to dismissal. It is in solidarity with these workers, and on behalf of their demands, that W.A.G.E. invites artists in the 2019 Whitney Biennial to do two things: demand to be paid for the content they provide and withhold that content until the demands of Whitney staff are met.”

W.A.G.E. has created a form fee request that includes a message addressed to Adam D. Weinberg (Director of the Whitney), Scott Rothkopf (Senior Deputy Director and Chief Curator) and other museum leadership(seen in W.A.G.E.’S Instagram post below). The demands echo those stated by Whitney employees in November 2018. The message, written by W.A.G.E., reads as follows:

Dear Adam D. Weinberg, Scott Rothkopf, and the leadership of the Whitney Museum, 

Please find the fee request for my participation in the 2019 Whitney Biennial below. The total cost of my labor has been calculated according to W.A.G.E.’s minimum standards of compensation. 

My participation in the exhibition is also contingent upon the fulfillment by leadership of the demands made by Whitney staff as detailed below and quoted directly from an internal letter sent to you on November 26, 2018. They are as follows: •​For leadership to convey our concerns to the Board, including that they consider asking for Warren Kanders’ resignation.

•​A public statement from the Whitney in response to the Hyperallergic article
•​A museum wide staff forum for employees to discuss this and other issues, and related policies moving forward
•​The development and distribution of a clear policy around Trustee participation.
(NB: Here, we intend to clarify what qualifies or disqualifies a wealthy philanthropic individual for the Board. Is there a moral line? If so, what is that line? If this was an instance of a #metoo scandal, would we call for resignation? If this was an instance of overt racism, would we call for resignation? We believe the line should be that we not be afflicted with any Board member whose work or actions are at odds with the museum’s mission.) I add to these demands that leadership establish a reasonable timeline for their fulfillment. 

Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to working with you. 


READ MORE: “W.A.G.E. Asks Artists to Demand Payment and Withhold Content from 2019 Whitney Biennial,” Jasmine Weber, Hyperallergic, 23 January 2019.


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