The museum is still dealing with the consequences of one of its most recent controversies—which is to say it may soon be under investigation by the IRS. (A former federal prosecutor filed a complaint following the months-long protests over its now former vice chairman, the CEO of weapons manufacturer Safariland. ) Even some of the art world’s most prominent figures have proven they aren’t afraid to call the Whitney out: Marina Abramović and Cindy Sherman were among those to publicly criticize its 2017 biennial’s inclusion of Dana Schutz’s painting of a lifeless, mangled Emmett Till. Around 3 p. m. on Tuesday, the 80 or so artists in question received another email—this time, informing them that their works wouldn’t be going on display after all.
Wahbeh also apologized, and clarified that he’d collected their works as part of the Whitney Special Collections, “an area that houses artists books, zines, posters, prints, and objects that document how artists distribute published materials as a form of practice…and are collected as the materials are launched and circulated. ” Going forward, Wahbeh promised, the museum will reconsider its approach to doing what he had intended: “build[ing] on a historical record of how artists directly engage the important issues of their time.
Critics had banded together, like those behind one of the show’s chief sources: a sale organized by See in Black, benefiting the Bail Project and the National Black Justice Coalition. “It has always been our objective to promote ownership, autonomy, and respect for Black creatives in an effort to shift the current paradigm upheld by white supremacy,” the collective said in a statement. “The Whitney’s use of the works acquired through the See in Black print sale at significantly discounted prices—the proceeds of which were donated 100% to charity—constitutes unauthorized use of the works to which the artists do not consent.
Meanwhile, “Whitney Museum” started trending on Twitter in New York. “It’s the audacity of @whitneymuseum for me,” the photographer Quil Lemons wrote. “I don’t think y’all understand how blatantly disrespectful this is. ” The photographer Gioncarlo Valentine, shared his discovery that Wahbeh had been following him, though to his knowledge never engaged with his work. I’m speechless. Like… people DREAM of having their work shown in the Whitney, and y’all out here trying to grab the shit on sale?
But to those who quickly shared the news on social media, the out-of-the-blue email came as an unwelcome shock. “Your level of entitlement and colonial mentality is THROUGH THE FUCKING ROOF,” the photographer Dana Scruggs posted on Instagram, tagging the Whitney and the exhibition’s curator, Farris Wahbeh. “Just because y’all have historically and intentionally excluded us from The Whitney doesn’t mean we’ll be on our knees thanking you for letting us in the main house.
It’s hardly the only institution needing to do so, but to many, the Whitney’s shortcomings stand apart. “The Whitney is by far the most transparently racist and corrupt museum in New York, and there’s A LOT of competition in that field,” the artist Anthony Santulli tweeted at the museum. “I want an honest answer: how many times do you need to be called out for this kind of thing before you actually make a change?
The Whitney Museum’s latest controversy, explained. https://t.co/0rZNgVKiWX— W Magazine (@wmag) August 26, 2020