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Whitney Museum Announces 2019 Biennial Participants, But One Artist Withdraws

Artist Michael Rakowitz withdrew his participation, opposing the “toxic philanthropy” of Whitney vice chairman Warren Kanders.

The Whitney Museum from High Line Park (photo courtesy Shinya Suzuki’s Flickrstream)

Today, the Whitney Museum of American Art announced the 75 artists (listed below) who will contribute work to the 2019 Whitney Biennial, curated by Rujeko Hockley and Jane Panetta and opening May 17. But one artist who was slated to appear, Michael Rakowitz, has withdrawn from the event.

The highly anticipated exhibition of contemporary art has been entangled in political disputes in the past, perhaps this year more than ever. Recent controversy sparked after news resurfaced identifying a Whitney vice chairman, Warren Kanders, as the owner and CEO of Safariland, a multi-billion dollar weapons manufacturer. (Forbes estimates that Kanders himself is worth $700 million.) Safariland products, particularly tear gas, have been used at highly-reported political clashes, including at Standing Rock, Baltimore, Ferguson, Gaza, and recently, at the US–Mexico border to prevent Central American asylum-seekers from entering the United States.

A teargas canister manufactured by Safariland, discovered at the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry by immigration journalist Patrick Timmons (image courtesy of and by Patrick Timmons/@patrickwtimmons)

In the past, the Biennial has been a political stomping ground for artists, and simultaneously artists and activists in disagreement with curatorial and artistic decisions. The 2017 biennial became the focus of numerous protests opposing a painting by Dana Schutz depicting Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old brutally murdered in 1955 over false accusations that he whistled at a white woman. In 2014, Joe Scanlan’s Donelle Woolford artwork prompted the Yams Collective to withdraw their participation

Today, the New York Times reported that, troubled by Kanders’s role at the Whitney, artist Michael Rakowitz has withdrawn his participation. Rakowitz had been commissioned to recreate artifacts and locations destroyed in the Iraq war.

Installation view of Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (image by Claire Voon for Hyperallergic)

The NYT reports that the artist submitted his withdrawal on December 18, just weeks after Whitney staff penned a letter to the museum administration requesting the “development and distribution of a clear policy around Trustee participation.” (In response, Whitney director Adam Weinberg released a public statement asserting that the Whitney “cannot right all the ills of an unjust world, nor is that its role.”)

Rakowitz called Kanders’s participation on the museum board “toxic philanthropy,” saying that participating despite this revelation made him feel “like I’d be betraying everything that I’ve ever cared about in the work that I make.”

“I felt like the only way to truly leverage any kind of voice was to say that often times what an artist doesn’t do is more important than what they said they will do,” he told the NYT.

Last month, arts labor organization W.A.G.E. circulated an open letter to Biennial artists asking them to withhold their work from the Biennial until the staff demands were met as well as demand payment for their contributions to the biennial. The NYT reported that the Whitney will be compensating artists $1,500 for their participation, which is the same amount suggested by W.A.G.E.

Activists burned sage in the museum atrium (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

In December, activist organization Decolonize This Place led a protest at the Whitney, filling its lobby with sage smoke, speaking out against Weinberg’s decision to defend Kanders’s role at the museum, and acting in solidarity with Whitney staffers.

In a statement sent to Hyperallergic this evening, organizers from Decolonize This Place wrote:

We respect and appreciate the artists and curators of the biennial, along with the staff who have spoken out against Kanders. We also appreciate Michael Rakowitz’s decision to boycott the Biennial. We stand in solidarity with all artists who make a similar decision in the coming months.
We are organizing and in conversation with biennial artists on how we can pressure the museum to do the right thing, which begins with the removal of Warren Kanders.
It is important to note that Warren Kanders is just the start of the crisis at the Whitney. There is no safe space for profiteers of all state violence.
As we move forward separately and together, we seek to supplement the work in the biennial, which exhibits the work of Indigenous, Black, and Brown artists also thinking through these issues. When we take creative actions in the coming months, and apply a diversity of tactics and strategies, it will be an extension of the issues raised in this biennial beyond representation to examine the funding and structural complicity of the museum in state violence against communities of color. We will do so with respect for the participants of the biennial, the curators, and the staff of the museum.

Hockley told the NYT that the curatorial intent behind this year’s biennial was to incorporate “as broad a range of artists as we could in all kind of senses of that word, whether that’s medium-wise, interest-wise, geographically, demographically, generationally.”

These artists, Panetta told the NYT, are “grappling with questions about race, gender, financial inequality, gentrification, the vulnerability of the body.”

A press release circulated by the museum said that this is one of the youngest groups of artists in the biennial’s history — three-quarters of participants are under the age of 40, and only five have exhibited in previous Whitney Biennials. Hockley and Panetta visited over 300 studios across the nation before selecting emerging stars like Troy Michie, Simone Leigh, and Martine Syms.

See the full list of participating artists, provided by the Whitney Museum in an email, below:

Eddie Arroyo
Born 1976 in Miami, FL
Lives in Miami, FL

Korakrit Arunanondchai
Born 1986 in Bangkok, Thailand
Lives in New York, NY, and Bangkok, Thailand

Olga Balema 
Born 1984 in Lviv, Ukraine
Lives in New York, NY

Morgan Bassichis
Born 1983 in Newton, MA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Blitz Bazawule
Born 1982 in Accra, Ghana
Lives in New York, NY

Alexandra Bell
Born 1983 in Chicago, IL
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Brian Belott
Born 1973 in East Orange, NJ
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Meriem Bennani
Born 1988 in Rabat, Morocco
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Robert Bittenbender
Born 1987 in Washington, DC
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Lucas Blalock
Born 1978 in Asheville, NC
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Garrett Bradley
Born 1986 in New York, NY
Lives in New Orleans, LA

Milano Chow
Born 1987 in Los Angeles, CA
Lives in Los Angeles, CA

Colectivo Los Ingrávidos
Founded 2011 in Tehuacán, Mexico

Thirza Cuthand
Born 1978 in Regina, Saskatchewan
Lives in Toronto, Ontario

John Edmonds
Born 1989 in Washington, DC
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Nicole Eisenman
Born 1965 in Verdun, France
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Janiva Ellis
Born 1987 in Oakland, CA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY and Los Angeles, CA

Kota Ezawa
Born 1969 in Cologne, West Germany
Lives in Oakland, CA

Brendan Fernandes
Born 1979 in Nairobi, Kenya
Lives in Chicago, IL

FIERCE and Paper Tiger Television
FIERCE
Founded 2000 in New York, NY
Paper Tiger Television
Founded 1981 in New York, NY

Marcus Fischer
Born 1977 in Torrance, CA
Lives in Portland, OR

Forensic Architecture
Founded 2010 in London, United Kingdom

Ellie Ga
Born 1976 in New York, NY
Lives in Stockholm, Sweden

Nicholas Galanin
Born 1979 in Sitka, AK
Lives in Sitka, AK

Sofía Gallisá Muriente
Born 1986 in San Juan, PR
Lives in San Juan, PR

Jeffrey Gibson
Born 1972 in Colorado Springs, CO
Lives in Germantown, NY

Todd Gray
Born 1954 in Los Angeles, CA
Lives in Los Angeles, CA, and Akwidaa, Ghana

Sam Green
Born 1966 in Detroit, MI
Lives in New York, NY

Barbara Hammer
Born 1939 in Los Angeles, CA
Lives in New York, NY

Ilana Harris-Babou
Born 1991 in Brooklyn, NY
Lives in Williamstown, MA, and Brooklyn, NY

Matthew Angelo Harrison
Born 1989 in Detroit, MI
Lives in Detroit, MI

Curran Hatleberg
Born 1982 in Washington, DC
Lives in Baltimore, MD

Madeline Hollander
Born 1986 in Los Angeles, CA
Lives in New York, NY

Iman Issa
Born 1979 in Cairo, Egypt
Lives in Berlin, Germany, and New York, NY

Tomashi Jackson 
Born 1980 in Houston, TX
Lives in New York, NY, and Cambridge, MA

Steffani Jemison
Born 1981 in Berkeley, CA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil, and Jackson Polys
Adam Khalil
Born 1988 in Nyack, NY
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Zack Khalil
Born 1991 in Newton, MA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Jackson Polys
Born 1976 in Ketchikan, AK
Lives in New York, NY

Christine Sun Kim
Born 1980 in Orange County, CA
Lives in Berlin, Germany

Josh Kline
Born 1979 in Philadelphia, PA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Autumn Knight
Born 1980 in Houston, TX
Lives in New York, NY

Carolyn Lazard
Born 1987 in Upland, CA
Lives in Philadelphia, PA

Maia Ruth Lee
Born 1983 in Busan, South Korea
Lives in New York, NY

Simone Leigh
Born 1967 in Chicago, IL
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Daniel Lind-Ramos
Born 1953 in Loíza, PR
Lives in Loíza, PR

James Luna
Born 1950 in Orange, CA
Died 2018

Eric N. Mack
Born 1987 in Columbia, MD
Lives in New York, NY

Calvin Marcus
Born 1988 in San Francisco, CA
Lives in Los Angeles, CA

Tiona Nekkia McClodden
Born 1981 in Blytheville, AR
Lives in Philadelphia, PA

Troy Michie
Born 1985 in El Paso, TX
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Joe Minter
Born 1943 in Birmingham, AL
Lives in Birmingham, AL

Keegan Monaghan
Born 1986 in Evanston, IL
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Caroline Monnet
Born 1985 in Ottawa, Ontario
Lives in Montreal, Quebec

Darius Clark Monroe
Born 1980 in Houston, TX
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Ragen Moss
Born 1978 in New York, NY
Lives in Los Angeles, CA

Sahra Motalebi
Born 1979 in Birmingham, AL
Lives in New York, NY, and Delaware County, NY

Marlon Mullen
Born 1963 in Richmond, CA
Lives in Rodeo, CA

Jeanette Mundt
Born 1982 in Princeton, NJ
Lives in Somerset, NJ

Wangechi Mutu
Born 1972 in Nairobi, Kenya
Lives in Brooklyn, NY, and Nairobi, Kenya

Las Nietas de Nonó (Lydela Nonó and Michel Nonó) 
Established 2011

Lydela Nonó
Born 1979 in San Juan, PR
Lives in Carolina, PR

Michel Nonó
Born 1982 in San Juan, PR
Lives in Carolina, PR

Jenn Nkiru
Born 1987 in London, United Kingdom
Lives in London, United Kingdom

Laura Ortman
Born 1973 in Whiteriver, AZ
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Jennifer Packer
Born 1984 in Philadelphia, PA
Lives in New York, NY

nibia pastrana santiago
Born 1987 in Caguas, PR
Lives in San Juan, PR

Elle Pérez
Born 1989 in the Bronx, NY
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Pat Phillips
Born 1987 in Lakenheath, United Kingdom
Lives in Pineville, LA

Gala Porras-Kim
Born 1984 in Bogotá, Colombia
Lives in Los Angeles, CA

Walter Price
Born 1989 in Macon, GA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Carissa Rodriguez
Born 1970 in New York, NY
Lives in New York, NY

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
Born 1982 in San Bernardino, CA
Lives in Los Angeles, CA

Heji Shin
Born 1983 in Seoul, South Korea
Lives in New York, NY

Diane Simpson
Born 1935 in Joliet, IL
Lives in Wilmette, IL

Martine Syms
Born 1988 in Los Angeles, CA
Lives in Los Angeles, CA

Kyle Thurman
Born 1986 in West Chester, PA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Mariana Valencia
Born 1984 in Chicago, IL
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Agustina Woodgate
Born 1981 in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Lives in Miami, FL, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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