The Whitney Museum is ramping up for its 2019 Biennial and has revealed its list of 75 contributing artists. The Biennial has, since 1932, been a prestige showcase of the contemporary art landscape in the United States. While this year’s show won’t open until May 17, it has already courted controversy.
This year’s exhibition, curated by Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley, will also include the London-based arts-architecture-and-science research collective Forensic Architecture, which is hot off of its nomination for a Turner Prize last year.
The run-up to the exhibition has been fraught. After Hyperallergic revealed in November of last year that Warren Kanders, a Whitney vice chairman, was the owner and CEO of Safariland—a weapons company responsible for manufacturing tear gas used at the border and the Standing Rock protests—a number of artists have spoken out in protest. Artist Michael Rakowitz has already withdrawn from the show as several other contributors, including Forensic Architecture, have indicated that their contributions will directly address the Safariland issue.
With the Whitney refusing to remove Kanders from his position, the activist group Decolonize This Place has pledged to hold nine weeks of “art and action” before the Biennial’s start. In a statement released on Twitter, the group has also promised that it will work with the Biennial’s artists to pressure the museum into removing Kanders, as well as hold supplemental events that spotlight the voices of indigenous and marginalized peoples. Decolonize This Place has emphasized its belief that the museum should not be able to profit through “state-sponsored violence” and has iterated its support for any artists who choose to drop out from the Biennial in the coming months.
— DecolonizeThisPlace (@decolonize_this) February 26, 2019
When reached for comment, Forensic Architecture directed AN to the following statement released on Twitter earlier today.
“In light of recent reporting by @hyperallergic & protests by @decolonize_this & others, our invitation to the 2019 #WhitneyBiennial has become a challenge which unites the political & cultural dimensions of our practice. We will respond through our contribution.”
In light of recent reporting by @hyperallergic & protests by @decolonize_this & others, our invitation to the 2019 #WhitneyBiennial has become a challenge which unites the political & cultural dimensions of our practice. We will respond through our contribution. https://t.co/1nNG9t4QaR
— Forensic Architecture (@ForensicArchi) February 27, 2019