December 9, 2018; Hyperallergic
The Whitney Museum of American Art found itself hosting an unexpected artist this week when a small exhibit was installed to introduce museumgoers to Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg’s defense of its board’s vice chairman Warren B. Kanders. Hyperallergic reported on November 27th that Kanders manufactured tear gas and smoke grenades used on asylum-seekers at the border in November, but his offenses go back much further:
In 2015, Hyperallergic reported on Kanders’ stake in the militarization of United States police forces through his role at Safariland, LLC, whose weapons are also utilized by Ferguson, Oakland, and Baltimore police. According to Bloomberg, Kanders is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Safariland and has been affiliated with the company since 1996. He purchased the corporation in 2012 for about $124 million from the UK-based BAE Systems, which is the largest defense contractor in Europe and the third-largest in the world.
The humble but powerful exhibit followed close on the heels of a large Decolonize This Place protest inside the Whitney and was installed by Rafael Shimunov with the group Art v. War. Shimunov’s stuck around for only a half hour before he slipped away quietly but he reported that around 70 patrons had already viewed the exhibit, which included two paintings and some text that read:
The Whitney Museum of Art’s Vice Chairman owns weapons manufacturers that supply Trump’s attacks on families and children seeking asylum.
A movement of artists have [sic] emerged to refused to allow our institutions to side with hate
Search #WhitneyTearGas and sign the petition.
Shimunov is himself a refugee from Uzbekistan, and he found it offensive that the Whitney Museum recently mounted a celebrated exhibition of Indigenous Latinx practices while Kanders was in a position of power within the museum.
More than 100 Whitney staff have signed a letter expressing the same sentiments. It reads as follows:
They conclude the letter with:
Continuing to accept funding—even, or perhaps especially transformative funding—from individuals who are knowingly complicit in the injustices committed on our own land and across our borders is negative peace. We demand positive peace.
Thank you, and we look forward to a productive dialogue and definitive change.
As do we all.—Ruth McCambridge