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Artists Write Letters, Seek Reforms At Whitney

A cancelled event by Whitney continues to haunt it as artists write an open letter, seeking reforms at the museum.

Whitney Museum had planned for an art exhibition along the themes of covid-19 and Black Lives matter just after its reopening. It had acquired works of 80 artists for the same. However, it soon met with harsh criticisms from artists, especially those of colour, regarding how the exhibition was conceived. Eventually, the museum cancelled the event last month.

The criticism levied by artists included the lack of consent from the original artists before buying their works. However, the most serious complaint was regarding how the museum bought the works from discount sales that were originally intended to help racial justice charities. Most artists believed that the museum was really unfair in the way it bought their works – especially in times when many artists are struggling financially. There were also calls to compensate the artists fairly.

However, Whitney Museum might not escape accountability by simply cancelling the event. On Tuesday, almost 50 artists wrote an open letter addressed to the museum. These artists were part of the 80 artists who works were originally acquired by Whitney. The open letter urged, first and foremost, for the museum to commit to a ‘year of action’. During it, the artists expect the museum to make some meaningful changes like changes to guidelines regarding ethical acquiring of art. The letter also talked about the museum’s role in a politically charged environment.

Meanwhile, the curators at Whitney have also apparently been doing their bit to heal the divide and pacify the artists. The curators claimed that over the past three weeks, they have been meeting with the aggrieved artists, listening and acknowledging their concerns.