This week, the Whitney Biennial opens but Occupy Wall Street’s Arts and Labor working group has already started to question the usefulness of the exhibition for artists and cultural workers, many of whom are unpaid to participate.

They take issue with the Biennial, which they clalim “upholds a system that benefits collectors, trustees, and corporations at the expense of art workers.” They go on to puncture holes in the commonly held myth that inclusion in the exhibition is a panacea:

“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 Whitney Museum, with its system of wealthy trustees and ties to the real estate industry perpetuates a model in which culture enhances the city and benefits the 1% of our society while driving others into financial distress. This is embodied both in the biennial’s sponsorship — represented most egregiously in its sponsorship by Sotheby’s, which has locked out its unionized art handlers — and the museum’s imminent move to the Meat Packing District, a neighborhood where artists once lived and worked which is now a gentrified tourist destination that serves the interests of the real estate industry.

We therefore call upon the Whitney in its centennial year to end the biennial and to support the interests of art workers over the capital interests of its trustees and corporate sponsors. As the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City states, ‘We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.’ Art institutions have come to mirror that ethos. We therefore call upon the Whitney to terminate its collusion with this system of injustice and use its resources to imagine sustainable models of creativity and culture that are accessible not just to Americans but to people around the globe.”

The group asks the Whitney to retire the Biennial exhibition in 2014, when it would be celebrating its centennial.

A few weeks ago the same OWS group demanded that New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) stop publishing listings for unpaid internships. NYFA has not responded to the request.

Read the whole letter here.

UPDATED: Somebody (or organization) is pranking the Whitney about their questionable corporate sponsors with a deceiving URL, AFC’s Whitney Kimball checked with the Whitney Museum and they said the site is not by them.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

2 replies on “OWS Arts & Labor Working Group Calls for End to Whitney Biennial By 2014 [UPDATED]”

  1. Here is an idea, if you don’t want to submit to a gallery…..don’t. If student’s want to submit work they have the right to. 

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