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Mon Jul 22, 2019, 05:00 PM

Artists are withdrawing from the Whitney Biennial (dirty plutocrat money)

A True Protest Biennia — By Jerry Saltz

Since before the show’s May opening, a constant drumbeat has sounded for the artists to refuse to participate owing to the relationship of Kanders to the museum and its exhibition. Why? In a certain way, he is a representative figure of the culture of toxic philanthropy, in which plutocrats who’ve made money in unseemly ways cleanse their reputations through donations to reputable institutions — think of the opiate-peddling Sackler family’s support of the Met or David Koch’s donations to what seems like half of high-culture New York. As for Kanders: Among the other disaster-capitalism concerns, his company Safariland manufactured some of the tear-gas canisters used by the Trump administration against immigrants crossing into America. (This news was published early on by the art blog Hyperallergic, which has continued reporting on this and has been breaking stories ever since.) Safariland’s ordinance was also used in Turkey, where over 130,000 tear-gas canisters were fired into crowds, and in Gaza, where 154 Palestinian protesters have been killed, including 34 children. Kanders and his product were toxic long before there was any outrage at the museum.

Being naïve to the ways of industrialist tycoons, I had hoped that rather than forcing the Whitney higher-ups to legislate this explosive issue — knowing such a situation opens a Pandora’s box around all cultural funding — Kanders would have resigned before the biennial opening, recognizing that his presence was harming the museum, the art, the Whitney name, and the artists. Instead, sounding as if he saw the world as his own petting zoo, Kanders opined, “While my company and the museum have distinct missions, both are important contributors to our society,” adding that “the politicization of every aspect of public life including commercial organizations and cultural institutions is not productive or healthy.”


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