• gerard van weyenbergh

Whitney cancels reopening amid artists anger

The exhibited artists accuse the Museum of having taken advantage of charity sales to buy their works at low prices.

"We have to pay the artists". This is in essence the reason for the cancellation of the exhibition "Collective Actions: Artist Interventions In A Time of Change", which was to begin September 17 at the Whitney Museum in New York. The exhibition's purpose was to show artistic creation and the role of artists in these pivotal times, marked by the health crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement. But the American Art Museum quickly gave up in the face of the controversy that ignited social networks on Tuesday, August 25.

Several artists did not hide their anger when they received an email from Whitney's research director, Farris Wahbeh, announcing that they had "acquired" one of their works, which would be shown during the exhibition at come.

However, these works were not purchased in the traditional framework of acquiring for a Museum. Still, during charity sales, the artists gave works, sold at low cost (a small hundred euros) for charitable organizations. Therefore, most felt cheated by these devious acquisitions, especially as these sales were primarily intended to allow a public without access to acquire a work.

In her interview with the New York Times , the photographer Dana Scruggs considers indecent the institution's conduct, which, in addition to not asking the authorization of the principals concerned, has the means to pay the works at their fair price. All the more so in this period of crisis when artists also need financial support. In his email, Mr. Wahbeh only offered them a pass allowing them to visit the Museum for free for life, a paltry compensation that was seen as an insult.

Besides, some artists have not failed to pin the institution, whose attitude they believe participates in "systemic racism." The Museum took advantage of a charity sale organized by a collective of black American photographers founded following the death of George Floyd. In doing so, he did not pay the artists who were all black American photographers, in an already tense context around the Black Lives Matter that the Museum precisely wanted to illustrate.

On social networks, the Whitney apologized for his clumsy handling of the situation and the "frustration" that resulted. For their part, most Internet users deplored the outright cancellation of the exhibition, while the Museum could have decided to pay the artists correctly.

The Whitney Museum is regularly the subject of controversy. Last year, one of his trustees was forced to resign when he was involved in manufacturing tear gas to push asylum seekers back to the border with Mexico. In 2017, the exhibition of a work by painter Dana Schutz depicted young Emmett Till in his coffin, his face disfigured after being savagely beaten to death by two whites in 1955 sparked a wave of protest.

Le Journal des Arts