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An “Alternative Museum Guide” Explains the Kanders Controversy to Whitney Biennial Visitors

An altered replica of the Whitney Museum’s spring guide, released by the collective (D)IRT, was created in an effort to educate museum visitors about the Whitney’s relationship to gentrification, diversity, and controversies surrounding its board.

First printing and assembly of (D)IRT’s alternate Whitney Spring Museum Guide (all images courtesy of (D)IRT)

(D)IRT, a new collective of artists, academics, activists, and cultural workers, has created an alternative version of the Whitney Museum Guide in protest of the presence of Warren B. Kanders, CEO of the tear gas manufacturer Safariland, on the museum’s board of trustees.  

The collective’s Spring 2019 guide replicates the Whitney’s original guide in size and design. The pamphlet ​starts with an overview of the Whitney crisis to educate visitors on its origins and implications. “The Whitney has claimed that it is a ‘safe place for unsafe ideas’ and we want to hold it accountable by examining structural problems with museum governance,” the guide reads.

“We believe the museum is deeply connected to issues of land, labor, policy and art washing that negatively impact our communities,” (D)IRT writes in the guide. “The continuing presence of Warren B. Kanders has put the role of that art and artists play in examining these issues into crisis.”

Whitney Museum visitors engaging with the alternate Whitney Spring Museum Guide on Friday, May 11

Later chapters in the guide expound the displacement of queer communities from the Meatpacking District to build the museum’s new building (which opened in 2015), a lack of diversity in the Whitney’s board, and “art washing” sponsorships. (D)IRT criticizes the museum’s partnership with the real estate company TF Cornerstone on Derek Fordjour’s public art installation on gun violence. Fordjour’s mural “Half Mast” (2019) was installed on the High Line close to the Whitney. TF Cornerstone, the guide says, is the lead developer planning to build luxury housing on the public-owned land of the Anable Basin site in Long Island City, where Amazon’s HQ2 was planned to be built.

The guide also includes a chart listing another 11 Whitney trustees, who, (D)IRT says, “profit from the military industrial complex that enables state violence through various finical state institutions.” The chart names Nancy Carrington Crown, Pamella G. DeVos, and Kenneth C. Griffin, who were included in a Hyperallergic article earlier this month that examined the board members’ ties to war profiteering and the Trump administration.

“We were looking for a public way to engage museum visitors who may be unfamiliar with the issue, so détourning the Whitney guide offered a disruptive way to format and frame our research,” (D)IRT told Hyperallergic in an email. “Most of the images in the guide are from the Whitney’s collection and recent exhibitions related to the themes discussed. We chose to use a Gerhard Richter painting [“Abstraktes Bild” (2009)] sold by Vice Chairman Warren Kanders for nearly $9 million on the cover,” they added. An Architectural Digest feature story from March 2017 shows the Richter painting adorning one of the walls of Kanders’s Colonial Revival house in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Copies of the alternative guide were first distributed last Friday, May 11, during a protest organized by Decolonize this Place (DTP) on the Whitney’s doorsteps as part of the group’s Nine Weeks of Art and Action. (D)IRT, who expressed its solidarity with the protestors, placed copies ​of the guide in kiosks throughout the museum and ​distributed ​more of them to Whitney visitors. Museumgoers engaged positively with the fake guides, (D)IRT says, but the pamphlets were quickly removed by security after they realized they were unauthorized.

The Whitney declined Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

The group is planning to distribute an updated version of the guide today, Friday, during the official opening of the 2019 Whitney Biennial. A PDF version of the guide is available on (D)IRT’s website: www.d-irt.com.

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