Yesterday, a group of artists and arts workers, many of them based in the Los Angeles County city of Glendale, wrote an open letter calling for a boycott of local art gallery the Pit. The letter’s signatories object to the Vision Valley exhibition curated by the gallery at the Brand Library and Arts Center, originally subtitled “The Glendale Biennial,” which does not include a single artist from Glendale’s Armenian diasporic community — which accounts for about 40% of the city’s population. The letter also criticizes the Pit (whose four staff members are featured in the exhibition) for failing to include more artists from the city’s immigrant communities in the 32-artist show.
“We are writing to tell you about the city of Glendale, California where you opened in 2014,” the letter, addressed to the Pit’s co-directors Adam D. Miller and Devon Oder, begins. “We are writing to tell you about the immigrant communities whose erasure you are enacting. … By refusing to address our concerns, you entrench the position that we are not legible as cultural producers, cultural stakeholders, or participants in our city’s cultural sphere. ” As of this writing, the letter has accrued over 110 signatures.
In response, Miller and Oder posted a statement on the Pit’s homepage explaining that the term “biennial” in the exhibition’s original was never intended in earnest. (The title was subsequently shortened from “Vision Valley: The Glendale Biennial” to simply Vision Valley.)
“To be clear, the exhibition was never a real ‘biennial’ and was never going to be a reoccurring exhibition,” Miller and Oder’s statement reads in part. “We realize now that the use of those words and continued use of the hashtag was misguided. We realize that though our intentions were not to do so, we have divided and angered many people. We take the concerns expressed by our community seriously and we apologize to all those we have offended. The Pit has always tried to be inclusive and open, we see here where we have made a mistake. We will do better in the future.”
Contacted by Hyperallergic to comment on the issues raised by the letter, a spokesperson for the Brand Library and Art Center said that the statement issued by the Pit “answers everything.” The spokesperson added that the Brand has “a strong record of supporting many diverse artists.”
The letters’ signatories, meanwhile, are not satisfied with Miller and Oder’s response. In response to Hyperallergic’s inquiry, a group of the original signatories of the letter sent the following statement:
The Armenian cultural workers who drafted this open letter, and its over 100 signatories, called for a response. What the Pit has issued is not a response, but a “response.” The statement released by the gallery performs the erasures it claims to address. It participates in a genre we have collectively come to know well: the cultural institution’s hollow apology delivered as tersely and cursorily as possible in order to return to business as usual. Armenian cultural workers have been contacting the Pit since April 26th, explaining why the exclusion of immigrant communities at our present juncture produces dangerous effects that reverberate beyond gallery walls, economically and politically. This statement does not address their concerns, but rather provides justifications for those exclusions. We are not, as the Pit describes us, “divided and angered.” We are united in our commitment to safeguarding our communities against the erasures and displacements of gentrification. The Pit’s statement closes with the nebulous intention to “do better in the future.” We would like to invite the Pit to do better now. For the cultural workers who drafted this open letter, the boycott stands.
In the meantime, the exhibition Vision Valley continues at the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale through June 22.