Calling it a “collusion with [a] system of injustice,” Occupy protesters called for the Whitney Museum to end its influential Biennial exhibition by 2014. In an open letter, Occupiers objected to the Biennial, which is considered a major tastemaker in the art world, because of its ties to institutions of the one percent, like Sothebys, which has been embroiled in a labor dispute. The 2012 Whitney Biennial opens March 1.
The Arts and Labor group of Occupy Wall Street wrote a letter, excerpted here:
We object to the biennial in its current form because it upholds a system that benefits collectors, trustees, and corporations at the expense of art workers. The biennial perpetuates the myth that art functions like other professional careers and that selection and participation in the exhibition, for which artists themselves are not compensated, will secure a sustainable vocation. This fallacy encourages many young artists to incur debt from which they will never be free and supports a culture industry and financial and cultural institutions that profit from their labors and financial servitude.
The group may also be tied to a hoax Web site for the Biennial, which claimed that the museum made the “difficult decision” to sever ties with two sponsors, Sothebys and Deutsche Bank, the New York Times reports.
Occupy’s demands for the Whitney are in line with protests held last year at the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Collection and the New Museum. Those demonstrations were against the “cultural elitism” perpetuated by art institutions. In the case of the Whitney, Occupy is focused more on the museum’s financial ties.
However, artists are not entirely sympathetic to Occupy’s position on museums. Without art institutions, the best art in the world would likely be off-limits to the 99 percent because it would be in private collections.
“The Whitney, while subject to cronyism and the whims of its donors/sponsors like ANY OTHER museum, has also done a great service to this country over the last 100 years by canonizing and recognizing works which would have otherwise lived only in the margins of the ‘Art World,’” wrote one commenter on the Occupy site. ”It celebrates the new, and while not always correct in its judgements, the Biennial is one of the only truly contemporary cultural events in this country.”
Occupy has a complicated relationship with art. Both the D.C. and New York outposts have utilized protest art and galleries to spread their message, but one Occupy-style gallery sit-in from a group capitalizing on the Occupy Museums protests was evicted.