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Let's talk about more than Warren Kanders.

That Kanders stepped down is good, but the critique has to keep going beyond the obsequious board that loved his money. How should we respond when artists want the fame and money of the big institutions wrapped up in inequality? Certainly, it depends on whether we are talking about recognition and empowerment or just vanity and inflamed love of oneself. The background of the artists matter. Still, we have to look at the conditions supporting such fundamentally inegalitarian institutions. What people like Kanders do is to sell weapons to contain the spillover disorder of the inequality. Kanders is inseparable from the inequality that remains when he is gone (1).

The problematic issue is really the current institutionalization of high art. But to challenge this institutionalization is to challenge an entire social system and ultimately to change the contemporary practice of art.

Imagine that, for an artist, the issue is just as much a fair and good economy as it is a question of art. Unlike some social practice artists who seem to draw the same conclusion but remain invested in the high art world of inequality, artists could create an alternative, socially good, economy and resolutely change their art to craft. One might even say that they were then doing social design.

Or imagine artists making art for their friends and neighborhood. They do not seek fame or representation and are unknown for most of their lives outside their circles of friends. Once again, they redefine the economy of art, this time more personally than socially.

These sketches may romanticize the realities. Perhaps we could think more, then, of truly challenging the institutions of art by changing the context and practice of art entirely. What would be an art that is entirely grounded in the common good throughout its entire process? What new institutions would have to be made? What existing ones would suddenly appear? What neighborhoods and networks of friends, families, and community members would be engaged? And how would the engagement and the craft shape everyday life, rather than capitalist and imperial spectacles, even those of minor arts organizations mirroring the imperial desires of major ones? If, finally, we were to “decolonize” U.S. museums, how would we honor treatises with Native Americans, rather than remaining in the orbit of fundamentally imperial institutions? “Decolonization is not a metaphor.”

What I see in the Whitney Biennial discussion is mostly not decisive enough about rejecting high art institutionalization. To focus on Kanders can deflect from this issue and protect the vanity of artists who flourish on inequality, even as they speak about social justice. The real question is, do they seek an alternative practice? And do we continue to seek the public funding of art?

~ Jeremy Bendik-Keymer, Cleveland, Ohio

(1) The issue isn’t simply the state’s violence, especially against people of color. It’s about what the state violence aims to do. It manages inequality. To critique the Whitney for its complicity in empire is to ignore its role as an exemplary institution in a system of inequality that is wider than the state.


These alternate art economies do exist but maybe their impact is just so slight, hard to see and mostly lacking the sustaining capital of large institutions. I agree artists ought to, and do, seek alternative practices that but there also has to be push-back against the institution. No doubt, Kanders’s stepping down does not relieve the Whitney of inequality but it may signal, however minor, a shift in the thinking that may edge closer toward fairness, accountability.


I partially agree, John.

I want to see more explicit awareness of the way in which Kanders profiteers off of containing the inequality that funds and fames the artists. Otherwise, deposing him can function too easily as a psychological displacement.

Also, from my own experience, I am skeptical of the aesthetic deformation created by contemporary high art institutionalization, at least around highly funded platforms in almost every case of which I can think. I think they present a devil’s bargain.

I’d like to see more explicit daring from the “great artists” of our time to do their main work outside such institutions. I’d like to see that become a driving problem that their work undertakes.

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Rachael Arrighi sent this in: https://elephant.art/a-supermarket-a-hairdresser-and-even-a-fridge-are-being-used-to-exhibit-art/

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This recently from the NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/14/opinion/sunday/modern-art-museum.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

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and uptown art and maybe all new york art events
(mostly, there are exceptions :wink:) exist for tourists and nostalgic academic masturbation and redundant tuition paid in full sans educational debt vanity projects commissioned by vulgar collectors adding another notch to their offshore silo bedposts; entirely mundane and boring (as fuck) for lookers and makers, down here on earth, who don’t 9 to 5 sincerity or clout (there are exceptions :wink: :star_struck:) … privilege with a little red bow :gift: no romance no stimulation no point in my {humble} opinion ™


Yes, sometimes. But we shouldn’t let our own lives get poisoned by the cynicism of it all. Looking back at this post, I realized that it’s related to two others here on this discussion board:


I’m not trained in fine art and had no real relation to the “art world” until some years ago, when I started to get drawn in writing for catalogues and things, then contributing to “socially engaged art” projects. Now, looking back, I’m disheartened by what I found. Art institutions – even in regional areas like Cleveland – are saturated with cynical constructions hidden underneath attitudes. Neoliberalism seems to have flooded almost everything.

But that can’t be true. There’s more to life than economic determinism.

The only place I know in any detail where I think there’s a vibrant art community is in Wilkinsburg, PA. The folks there are mostly living so that art is a vital part of everyday life and are contributing to and working with their community, being a part of it, through and alongside their art.

There must be a lot more of these communities. Sometimes, I glimpse them from hearing about them or seeing some event or image posted. But they don’t make it into the media sphere often, because that sphere is also structured by neoliberal incentives and disincentives, it seems, all the way to the online art journals that trade in politics, but which seem at bottom to be be slick and status oriented. Those leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Fed on images of bohemian communities in the 1970s and early 1980s when I was a teenager, I thought the thing worse than death for an artist was to sell out.

Has everything been sold once it enters the sphere of art institutions today? Must artists sell themselves as images? (*) Is there an excuse for this ?

I enjoy finding artists who begin with art’s relation to life, community, and politics, and go where that relation takes them in everyday life outside the framing of art institutions. And I love art institutions that are hard core about art in the way that scholars are hardcore about truth.

– J.

(*). One thing I guard against is when artists use social media to relentlessly promote themselves. I am interested instead in the use of social media to share life and the points inside people’s work where the difficulty of the meaning appears. That makes the work process communal …

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