On May 9th, Holland Cotter of the New York Times made a strong statement: “Mr. Kanders should remove himself from the board [of Trustees at the Whitney Museum].” The article, “Money, Ethics, Art: Can Museums Police Themselves?” is a good overview of the past year’s turbulence experienced in the museum world. What stands out for Marabou is the fact that the NYT is one of the first mainstream media outlets to take a stance, and even more, to say that Kanders should step down.
Marabou wonders how the Whitney will respond. This week marks the 9th week of protests, cumulating at the public opening of the museum’s Biennial on May 17th. Will the Whitney continue to remain silent despite continued pressure to remove Kanders? The movement was ignited by a staff letter in November and now has grown to include external pressures from community and activists groups, academics, and now mainstream media and 46 of the 75 artists presenting in the Biennial. The outcry grows louder and it should be harder to for the Whitney to continue ignoring it.
The article is a good read, so are the comments. It’s worth taking the time to scroll through to see the variations in arguments on the issue. Some of Marabou’s favorite comments are below.
One commenter, “Johnny” from Newark wrote:
“If these protesters actually wanted to change the world, they would invest in themselves, develop skills, monetize such skills and, finally, donate the fruits of their labor to those in need.
But that’s far to [sic] hard and involves next to no instant gratification. Far easier to just show up somewhere and make noise. If that is truly what makes them feel validated in this world, so be it. But please realize, there are so many other paths to helping the most vulnerable, some, I would argue, much more effective.”
“ms” from CA responded:
“@Johnny I’m involved in advocating for better healthcare and improved medical research funding as my passion project (i.e. I don’t get paid for it). Most of my advocacy work is of the low-key boring kind: writing papers, doing research, meeting with policy makers, etc. Some might even argue I am too conservative. Indeed, it’s not my style to be loud, demanding, or attention-getting. And with my background/ credential, it’s the way I as an individual can be most effective.
However, in all social movements, there is a role for quiet action like my own and for public demonstrations/ creative protests. Most successful social actions require both. Even in my conservatism, I occasionally donate $$ to groups that hold protests. This current article and the actions in the UK to get museums to give up opioid-tainted cash started with a demonstration in the Met by one woman a few years ago.
And there are some issues in life that no amount to talking, writing, etc. will change. If you have ever enjoyed a regular work week, vacation time, employer-sponsored health insurance, a retirement pension, occupational protection gear, or indeed any work benefits, please remember thousands of people died and were maimed for your privileges during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Companies did not provide those benefits willingly. That is but one example.”
“B” from Brooklyn commented:
“Thank heaven for rich collectors.
Like Louisine Havemeyer.
An early collector of modern art, she bought paintings from then almost unknown artists, kept them awhile, and then gave them to the Metropolitan Museum.
Ditto the Rockefellers. And Morgan. And Benjamin Altman. And others.
Now we get to enjoy it all.
And you can say the same thing about our National Parks — built with land purchased by rich people and then joined with other parcels and now ours to roam. Or our great gardens, like Longwood and Winterthur.
Protestors are cutting off not just their own short-sighted noses but the rest of ours too. They will leave us with proletariat ugliness.”
“Iam 2” from the Empire State responded:
“@B. “Proletariat ugliness”? Really? Museums and other nonprofit institutions should be places in which dissent can be voiced and ideas about truth, justice, and morality can be debated. Protest is one way of doing that. You might find it ugly. Others might find it thought-provoking or a sign that people today are engaged in their world and care about the actions of supposedly public institutions.”
Marabou particularly got a kick out of someone using the term “proletariat ugliness.”