Controversy at The 2019 Whitney Biennial

Chloe Wyma at Artforum:

Kanders’s role as vice chairman of the Whitney’s board became a subject of intense agitation in the run-up to the show. In November, nearly a hundred Whitney staff members submitted a letter asking for his resignation, a demand later amplified by a petition signed by critics (including myself), academics, and artists (many of them Biennial participants); between January and March, the art activist group Decolonize This Place led weekly demonstrations at the museum. The curators directly addressed the controversy through their inclusion of the interdisciplinary research group Forensic Architecture’s much-written-about video Triple-Chaser, 2019, which also implicates Kanders through another of his holdings, Sierra Bullets, in child deaths and other war crimes in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Superimposed on this debate over funding structures and museum ethics were a series of online skirmishes over art criticism, identity, and representation, touched off by Simone Leigh’s Instagram-based challenge to unnamed white critics who had characterized the Biennial as safe or lacking in “radicality” to question their narrow, racially conditioned frames of reference. In July, three black critics, Ciarán Finlayson, Tobi Haslett, and Hannah Black (who was a key polemicist in the representation-oriented clashes around the 2017 Biennial) coauthored a clear and powerful statement calling on Biennial artists to push for Kanders’s resignation by removing their work from the show. The statement, titled “The Tear Gas Biennial” and published on, sharpened the contradictions between “the disembodied, declarative politics of art” and the material politics of its production, patronage, and circulation. “The ease with which left rhetoric flows from art is matched by a real poverty of conditions,” they wrote, “in which artists seem convinced they lack power in relation to the institutions their labor sustains. Now the highest aspiration of avowedly radical work is its own display.”

more here.