A projection from protesters on the south side Whitney Museum in Manhattan on Tuesday night. Image courtesy Emon Hassan for The New York Times
The newly erected Whitney Museum for American Art in the Meatpacking District has already come under fire for a perceived ethical issue: being built near a gas line that brings fracked fossil fuels into Manhattan. The project is backed by the new group Occupy the Pipeline, which includes members such as the Guerilla Girls and Strike Debt’s Noah Fischer. Given that the Whitney doesn’t own the pipeline, and that it’s basically impossible to find Manhattan real estate that isn’t in proximity to something awful, it seems doubtful that the plight of fossil fuels should fall on the Whitney’s shoulders. An excerpt from Occupy The Pipeline’s website describing the issue:
“With the new Whitney museum in New York, the public now has an example of a museum that literally incorporates fossil fuel infrastructure into its foundation. The vault of the controversial Spectra gas pipeline is concealed underneath the Whitney museum’s front steps…Today we are asking: how can a museum that literally covers up the dirty fossil fuel industry be a beacon for the future of art and culture?”
Occupy the Pipeline’s transformation of the literal into the metaphorical is extremely problematic here. This logical conflation uses the museum’s cement foundation’s proximity to another company’s property as proof that the institution has an interest to literally conceal the efforts of the fossil fuel industry, which is just ludicrous and wrong. Similarly, standing in the foyer of 508 West 26th Street doesn’t mean that I foundationally support the 8th-floor Greene Naftali, or if I’m on the roof of the building, that I am so over the gallery.
To describe their intentions, Occupy the Pipeline states:
“This action represents a collaboration among international groups focused on culture and climate activism. As artists who care about the integrity of art museums, we are building a grassroots translocal platform which recognizes the role that cultural institutions beholden to corporations can have in creating a reality where economic and climate injustice are tolerated. As human beings, we are fighting for a fossil fuel-free future.”
Image via whitneypipeline.org
I’m all for climate activism and keeping institutions accountable to the public, but this seems like a fabricated issue that rides the coattails of the new Whitney’s opening hype. It brings to mind one of Fischer’s earlier projects, Occupy Museums, which also seemed off in its aim to target museums, rather than commercial galleries or auction houses, as propagators of corporate interest in the arts. (With that said, Fischer’s other projects, such as Strike Debt, seem not only worthwhile but vital, and I previously reported on his Artist as Debtor conference for this publication.) It’s paramount for us as activists to choose targets judiciously, and not create red herrings that cause innocent parties distress and distract from more urgent issues.
Do you think the new Whitney should come under fire for its proximity to the Spectra pipeline, or is this a fabricated issue?