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‘We Truly Live in Difficult Times’: Whitney Museum Director Responds to Demands for Action Against Vice Board Chair

The Whitney Museum.

COURTESY WHITNEY MUSEUM

In a note sent Sunday to Whitney Museum staff and trustees, Adam Weinberg, the New York institution’s director, responded to an open letter demanding action against Warren B. Kanders, the vice chair of the museum’s board. That letter suggested that the Whitney consider asking for the resignation of Kanders, who owns Safariland, a company that manufactures tear gas canisters and other products that have been used against asylum seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border. As published on Hyperallergic, the letter signed by nearly 100 Whitney staff members reads, in part, “To remain silent is to be complicit.”

Weinberg’s letter, which does not address whether Kanders’s status at the museum will change, begins:

Together, for the last fifteen years, we have created a place of great promise, hopes and dreams, often against great odds. Our community united in common purpose to reimagine a home for artists in the 21st century where they can envision, experiment, struggle, risk and even protest openly, unencumbered and uncensored. We have fashioned this protected space together through mutual trust, respect, openness and discussion even when opinions differ. We respect the right to dissent as long as we can safeguard the art in our care and the people in our midst. As one director colleague describes the contemporary museum, it is “a safe space for unsafe ideas.” This is the democracy of art.

Weinberg asks that the museum’s staff open up a space for conversation, while noting:

This “space” is not one I determine as director but something that we fashion by mutual consent and shared commitment on all levels and in many ways.

As to how change happens within the museum’s staff and board, he writes:

As members of the Whitney community, we each have our critical and complementary roles: trustees do not hire staff, select exhibitions, organize programs or make acquisitions, and staff does not appoint or remove board members. . . . Even as we contend with often profound contradictions within our culture, we must live within the laws of society and observe the “rules” of our Museum—mutual respect, fairness, tolerance and freedom of expression and, speaking personally, a commitment to kindness. It is so easy to tear down but so much more difficult to build and sustain.

Near the note’s conclusion, Weinberg writes:

To those of you, and I trust it is nearly all, who want to move forward despite some significant differences of opinion, I am here as your partner, to lead and to work hard every day to make the Whitney, and possibly the world, a better place. I accept that there may be a few of you who are not inclined to do so, but I would like nothing more than to continue this journey together. We have important work to do.

Kanders is currently listed on the Whitney’s website as vice chairman. He is also named as a “significant contributor” to the museum’s current Andy Warhol retrospective.

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