Matthew Huynh, “The Occupied Wall Street Journal” (2011) (Image provided by Matthew Huynh)

Earlier today, a group of artists featured in the London Design Museum’s Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008–18 released a statement requesting their works be withdrawn from the show, set to close August 12. Thirty artists and museum contributors signed the statement, throwing their support behind the call for art institutions to financially and ideologically divest from the international weapons industry. The artists request their work be removed from the gallery by August 1.

The Design Museum in London (image by Anthony O’Neil and via Wikipedia)

The statement follows the Farnborough Airshow, a fair organized by arms-trading company Leonardo, held in the museum on July 17. The event occurred in conjunction with a museum discussion held the same evening, tackling social media and design’s purpose in social justice movements, a move the protesters call hypocritical.

The statement penned by the featured artists compels the museum to consider the duplicity of the radical nature of its exhibition schedule in contrast with its association with arms trading entities. It reads:

Museums are not neutral spaces — every decision about what is displayed, how it is labelled and how it is funded is political, and reveals something about the underlying values of the institution. By hosting an arms industry event, the Design Museum is presenting values that are strongly at odds with most of the art in Hope to Nope, which aspires to use the power of design to challenge powerful elites and promote peace and justice.

Matthew Huynh, an artist whose Occupy Wall Street protest art was included in the exhibition, says he was initially thrilled to be involved in Hope to Nope because of its focus on radical politics in design. Huynh told Hyperallergic, “The hypocrisy is that the museum would be celebrated for and identify with the work of radical artists on one hand, whilst profiting and lending cultural legitimacy to the same arms dealers and manufacturers that capitalize from conflicts that these artists explicitly oppose and sell tear gas that’s used on protestors across the world.”

Tim Fishlock, known as artist Oddly Head, joined the request that his work be removed from the show. The artist told Hyperallergic, “It’s not appropriate to host an event by a weapons manufacturer in a room next door to the one where you’re running a show that is specifically about moral and political objections to war, weapons, and corporate inhumanity. Whilst the [museum] is not expected to endorse any views expressed in any of the exhibitions it curates, I believe it does have a duty to behave respectfully towards the artists/designers that work hard with the museum to create shows that pack in the paying visitors.”

The UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade, which has actively supported the artist-lead effort, accuses the museum of secrecy in the planning of the airshow, which was discovered by participating artists through social media the day it occurred.

Andrew Smith, a representative from the CAAT, told Hyperallergic, “The reason that the arms industry wants to use venues like the Design Museum is not because of a commitment to the arts. It is because they want to gain a veneer of legitimacy for their terrible business. By agreeing to host them the Design Museum is giving practical support to an industry that thrives on war and conflict.”

CAAT reports that the program was hosted in spite of various recent criticisms directed at museums regarding their relationship with arms dealers. Most recently, protestors organized a die-in at the 2016 Farnborough arms fair reception held at the London Science Museum. In 2014, the National History Museum declined to host the reception, and in 2012, the National Gallery ended its contract with Leonardo (then known as Finmeccanica) a year earlier than anticipated, following protests.

“Other public institutions need to reflect on the anger we have seen, and need to ask if their event policies are consistent with their values,” Smith explains. “Public institutions need to work for the public good, they should not be promotional vehicles for arms companies. This campaign could set a very important precedent and should cause other public institutions and individuals to consider their relationship with the arms industry.”

In a statement sent to Hyperallergic, the Design Museum says it is in the process of contacting individual artists regarding their work’s presence in the show, adding, “The museum is saddened that they may wish to remove their work before the end of the exhibition. It will be a missed opportunity to share the important design stories behind these exhibits.”

They add, “As a charity, 98% of the museum’s running costs come from admissions, retail, fundraising and event hire, such as the one hosted that night. This was a private event of which there was no endorsement by the museum.  The Design Museum is committed to achieving its charitable objective to advance the education of the public in the study of all forms of design and architecture and is thus a place of debate that, by definition, welcomes a plurality of voices and commercial entities. However, we take the response to Tuesday’s event seriously and we are reviewing our due diligence policy related to commercial and fundraising activities.”

Artists say the public release of the statement follows private talks with senior museum staff. In their letter, the artists assure, “We want to make it clear that our criticism is directed at the management and trustees of the Design Museum, not the curators who have created a fantastic showcase of radical art and had no say in the arms fair booking. We were all proud to be included in Hope to Nope, and do not take this action lightly.”

Signatories of the original statement include:

  • BP or not BP? and Stig, designer (BP ruff)
  • Pavel Arsenev, Laboratory of poetical actionism (“You cannot even imagine us” banner)
  • Roman Osminkin, poet, artist, activist, St Petersburg Russia (“You cannot” banner)
  • Kathrin Böhm, co-founder of Company Drinks (6 bottles of Sour Brexit)
  • Keep it Complex, Make it Clear arts collective (Unite Against Dividers campaign material)
  • Peter Marcuse and Bill Posters, Brandalism Collective (subverted adverts)
  • James Moulding and Dr. Richard Barbrook, Games for the Many (Corbyn Run)
  • Fraser Muggeridge (Spectres of Modernism installation)
  • Noel Douglas, Occupy Design Collective (Occupy Design website and materials)
  • Kiran Chahal and Stephanie Turner (Co-Designers of Grenfell“Wall of Truth” -“The Truth Will Not Be Hidden”)
  • Paolo Pedercini, Molleindustria, (“Casual Games for Protesters”)
  • Jonathan Barnbrook (Brandalism VW poster)
  • The Space Hijackers (Official Olympics Protestor t-shirt)
  • Charlie Waterhouse and Clive Russell, This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll (Brixtopia & The Brixton Pound)
  • Peter Kennard (“Union Mask” in the permanent collection display “Designer User Maker” – donated to Design Museum)
  • Occupy London (campaign materials and copies of Occupied Times)
  • Benny Tai, one of the initiators of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace Movement and a core participant of the
  • Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong
  • Sampson Wong (Umbrella Movement Visual Archive)
  • Sarah Corbett, Craftivist Collective (Mini Banner craftivism DIY kits, in museum shop)
  • Jamie, Bristol Streetwear (Corbyn T-shirt with Nike swoosh)
  • Tim Fishlock, Oddly Head (Slogans in Nice Typefaces Won’t Save the Human Races poster)
  • dr.d (Curfew Social Cleansing poster)
  • Matt Huynh (Occupied Wall Street Journal cover)
  • Malu Halasa (author, Syria Speaks: Art and Culture From the Frontline)
  • Shelley Hoffman (Black Lives Matter quilt)

Supporters (people who have participated in events relating to the exhibition):

  • Ash Sarkar (editor, writer, lecturer)
  • Gavin Grindon (curator, Disobedient Objects, Victoria & Albert Museum)
  • Catherine Flood (curator, Disobedient Objects, Victoria & Albert Museum)
  • Matt Bonner (designer)
  • Mel Evans (author, Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts)
  • Michael Oswell (Studio Accelorata Jengold)
  • Joshua Wong (Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong)

Jasmine Weber is an artist, writer, and former news editor at Hyperallergic. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

2 replies on “After London Design Museum Hosts Arms Industry Event, Artists Demand Their Work Be Removed”

  1. While this is certainly a sad use of the museum’s space (and why are public institutions engaging with commercial entities anyway?) but I was pretty grossed out by the inclusion of a list of supporters at the end. That was a terrible editorial decision—instead of focusing on the mistake that was made, you’ve turned this into a finger pointing exercise, and that just devalues the debate enormously.

  2. This is a purely one-sided article. Nowhere is Leonardo’s voice heard, or any Arm’s trade representative. This is simply not journalism.

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