Art

Tear Gas Manufacturer Steps Down From Whitney Board After Protests

It's a great day for bad men losing their jobs! Ricardo Roselló, the embattled governor of Puerto Rico is officially out, and now Warren Kanders, the vice chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art whose company manufactures military-grade tear gas, has finally stepped down after months of protests, reports the New York Times.

A coalition of Whitney employees and artists, which was lead by direct action group Decolonize This Place and grew to include high profile artists including Dread Scott, Barbara Kruger, Cameron Rowland, Nan Goldin, Yvonne Rainer, Hans Haacke, Andrea Fraser and Laura Poitras, began protesting Kanders' role in the Whitey last year. They mobilized after it came to light that Safariland tear gas, which Kanders purchased in 2012, was being used on migrants at the US/Mexico border, as well as against activists at Standing Rock, in Ferguson, Oakland, Palestine, Puerto Rico and Egypt, and to arm the NYPD.

The coalition published an open letter demanding Kanders resignation or removal, on the basis that the Whitney can't be an ethical or credible cultural institution, while funded and run by a weapons manufacturer. "We felt not annoyed, not intellectually upset—we felt sick to our stomachs, we shed tears, we felt unsafe... For many of us, the communities at the border, in Ferguson, in the Dakotas, are our communities," read the letter published by Verso Books.

Kanders resignation finally came after a total of eight artists withdrew from the prestigious Whitney Biennial exhibition in protest, though it's still unclear if Kanders was pressured to step down, or made the choice himself.

"The politicized and oftentimes toxic environment in which we find ourselves across all spheres of public discourse, including the art community, puts the work of this board in great jeopardy," he said in his resignation letter to the board, continuing: "The targeted campaign of attacks against me and my company that has been waged these past several months has threatened to undermine the important work of the Whitney. I joined this board to help the museum prosper. I do not wish to play a role, however inadvertent, in its demise." Read his full resignation letter here.

Kanders' exit is one of a number of successes that organizers have had in destabilizing corporate control over the art world, lately. This year, the P.A.I.N. Sackler protests campaign successfully pressured the Metropolitan Museum of Art to cut ties with the Sackler family, which profited off the sale of OxyContin. Activists have called on MoMA to divest from Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, a top funder of private prisons. The American Museum of Natural History is facing pressure to remove Rebekah Mercer from their board because of her support for groups that deny climate change.

Photo via Getty

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