Artists are asking the Whitney Museum of American Art to rethink its ethical practices.
The Whitney, located in Manhattan, canceled last month’s “Collective Actions” exhibit following backlash from Black artists whose works were to be displayed without their permission. “The exhibition, which was originally slated to launch this coming Thursday, revolved around the responses to the global health crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement. Artists felt the museum was not communicative or transparent about their acquisition of their works —some of which had sold for around $100 USD as part of the charity initiative See In Black print sale led by a coalition of Black photographers. The artists were only aware of the presentation when the museum staff sent out e-mails requesting their biographical information and offered them a lifetime pass to the museum as the only compensation,” HypeBeast notes.
“I understand how projects in the past several months have a special resonance and I sincerely want to extend my apologies for any pain that the exhibition has caused,” Farris Wahbeh (curator of the exhibition) said in a statement to the site. In an update, three of the aforementioned artists have published a letter requesting the Whitney review its ethical guidelines and practices.
The letter, written by Chiara No, Kara Springer and Fields Harrington, reads in part:
“The Whitney’s formal statement in support of Black communities states that you have increased the racial diversity of your collection, exhibitions, and performances. The ways in which you acquired our work and planned to show it, without conversation with or consent from many of the included artists, demonstrates an undervaluing of our labor and denial of our agency. This calls into question how you have increased the diversity of your collection. The purpose of acquiring work is not only to preserve a moment in time but also to support living artists. All too often, Black, Indigineous, and POC artists are invited in because our radicality serves to signify institutional inclusivity and progressiveness. This performance of racial inclusion seldom comes alongside a real commitment to supporting historically excluded communities. That we were brought into the museum through an administrative loophole in which the special collection acquisition made it possible to collect and exhibit our work without adhering to the museum’s own standards of compensation offers an important insight into how Black, Indigineous, and POC artists continue to be inadvertently marginalized and exploited.”
Read it in full here.