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‘I Am Not the Problem’: Warren B. Kanders Responds to Whitney Staff Open Letter

In further news: Paris museums close after Gilets Jaunes protests; Candice Breitz demands release of aid worker

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The Whitney Museum. Courtesy: Wikimedia

The Whitney Museum. Courtesy: Wikimedia

Vice chair of the Whitney museum's board, Warren B. Kanders, has responded to an open letter penned by staff calling on the museum to take action against him.  Kanders was criticized by almost 100 staff members for his connection to Safariland, a company that manufactures tear gas canisters which were used against asylum seekers along the US-Mexico border. ‘To remain silent is to be complicit’, the staff wrote in their open letter, published in Hyperallergic. In his response, Kanders said that he is ‘not the problem the authors seek to solve’ and that Safariland’s role in manufacturing is to ensure that the products ‘work as expected when needed and not to determine when or how they are employed.’ He added: ‘The staff letter implies that I am responsible for the decision to use these products. I am not. That is not an abdication of responsibility, it is an acknowledgement of reality’. The museum’s director Adam Weinberg also responded to the open letter, writing: ‘Even as we contend with often profound contradictions within our culture, we must live within the laws of society and observe the ‘rules’ of our Museum – mutual respect, fairness, tolerance and freedom of expression and, speaking personally, a commitment to kindness. It is so easy to tear down but so much more difficult to build and sustain.’ Kanders is named as a ‘significant contributor’ to the museum’s current Andy Warhol retrospective.

After weeks of delays, two art works have finally been blasted into space in a Falcon 9 rocket from California’s Vandebberg Air Force Base. Orbital Reflector, by Berlin-based artist Trevor Paglen, is a diamond-shaped balloon made of polyethylene coated in titanium dioxide which will reflect sunlight back to Earth and appear as a point of light in the sky. New York-based artist Tavares Strachan’s work, Enoch, is a bust depicting the first African American selected for the US space programme, Robert Henry Lawrence Jr, atop a 24-carat gold Egyptian-inspired jar. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, who sponsored Strachan’s work, estimate the satellite will revolve around the Earth for seven years.

French museums and auction houses were forced to close over the weekend after Gilets Jaunes protests in Paris turned violent. The Jeu de Paume photography gallery next to the Place de la Concorde closed after its windows were smashed and cars were set alight outside of the venue on Saturday. Rioters wearing hi-vis jackets also graffitied the Arc de Triomphe and smashed several monuments including a sculpture by François Rude depicting the national symbol of the French Republic, Marianne. The nationwide protest, which began on 17 November, is aimed at a rise in fuel taxes and frustrations with French President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms.

Candice Breitz has called for the release of an aid worker who has spent 100 days imprisoned in Greece. The Berlin-based South African artist, who participated in the 2017 Venice Biennale, has demanded the release of humanitarian aid worker Sarah Mardini who was detained and charged by Greek officials for ‘assisting illegally refugees to enter Greece, being a member of a criminal organization and espionage’. Mardini had been volunteering on the island of Lesbos for the Emergency Response Centre International when she was arrested in August alongside two others. Writing on Facebook, Breitz said: ‘In criminalizing the efforts of humanitarians like Sarah, the Greek government – in cahoots with other European governments – sends out a message that is loud and clear: on the European coastline, saving lives is to be treated as a punishable crime’. An online petition started by the Free Humanitarians organization calling for Mardini’s immediate release has so far received more than 8,000 signatures. 

The Mauritshuis museum in The Hague has teamed up with Google Arts & Culture to build a virtual museum app dedicated to the work of Johannes Vermeer. For the augmented-reality downloadable app, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has contributed images of five Vermeer masterpieces while the National Gallery in Washington and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum have each contributed four photographs from their collections. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has shared an image of The Concert (1664) that had previously disappeared after being stolen from the museum’s collection in 1990. Director of Google’s Arts and Culture Lab, Laurent Gaveau, said they were interested in experimenting with new ways to make art and culture accessible to the public. ‘We want to first see how people will react to this, and we want to see, from a technological standpoint and a user standpoint, if it’s right and how it can be improved.’ The free app will be accessible to anyone with a smartphone.

In awards and grants news: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has awarded grants totalling USD$725,000 dedicated to supporting critical writing on contemporary art. The 21 grantees include Malik Gaines, Jessica Horton, Lucy Ives, Rahel Aima and Wendy Vogel. The City of Jackson in Mississippi has receives a USD$1M grant for public art funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

In gallery news and movements: Anna Coliva has been reinstated as Director of the Galleria Borghese in Rome after being accused of ‘absenteeism’ and given a six month suspension without pay. In a formal settlement a labour judge established that there were no grounds for the charges; Adam Chinn is to step down as Sotheby’s Chief Operating Officer; Pace Gallery will open a new flagship space in Chelsea in 2019; and Stephen Friedman Gallery now represents Denzil Forrester.

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