Here Are the Biggest Controversies That Rocked the Art World in 2019.
This past year saw no shortage of controversies in both the art world and the real world. And perhaps more than ever before, the distance between those two worlds seemed to collapse, as artists and activists began demanding with unprecedented strength that patrons- both board members and corporate sponsors-answer for their actions outside the confines of the museum. We zeroed in on several points hot-button issues that ignited heated debate in the art world this year, and the particular questions they provoked.
1.- How Do You Know When a Board Member Is Too Tainted?
A-When protesters gathered at the Whitney Museum of American Art in December 2018 to protest the presence of Warren B. Kanders, the CEO of Safariland, on its board of trustees, few could have imagined that seven months later, Kanders would step down. Way back in the olden days of 2018, board members seemed untouchable, operating in a different stratosphere from grassroots demonstrators who sought to draw attention to weapons- manufacturer Safariland´s use of tear gas at the US border. But after weeks of regular protests in the lobby of the Whitney led by the group Decolonize This Place, a forceful Artforum essay, and the decision by wight artists to withdraw their work midway through the Whitney Biennal, what once seemed impossible suddenly became a reality: Kandars left the board, saying he did not “wish to play a role, however inadvertent, in [the Whitney´s] demise”
B- The director of the Serpentine Galleries in London, Yana Peel, has resigned following media reports alleging a link between her and her husband and a controversial Israel cyberweapons company. In a statement to the press, Peel explains that her highly unusual decision to step is a result of “a concerted lobbying campaign”, regarding a recent management buyout of the Israeli company supported by a private equity firm co-founder by her husband, Stephen Peel. The relationship between Yana Peel and the Israel NSO Group is complex and whit Novalpina LLC, a private equity firm co-founder by her husband Stephen Peel. Yana Peel´s abrupt resignation comes at a time when arts patrons, along with museums trustees, are facing unprecedented scrutiny over the source of their wealth or their family’s wealth.
Yana Peel, resignation brings an end to a 15-year involvement with the Serpentine, which she has led as director for the past three years, working hand-in glove with its artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist.
2-Has the Sackler Name Finally Become Too Toxic for Museums?
The debate over the Sackler family’s cultural philanthropy its another controversy that began stirring in late 2018, but remained at the fringes of the cultural conversation until it became impossible to ignore this year. In the early months of 2019, artist Nan Goldin, who battled opioid addiction herself, continued staging regular demonstrations at museums that had halls named after the Sackler family, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then, in March, something that had only recently seemed unthinkable happened: the National Portrait Gallery in London announced it would not accepted a $ 1,3 million gift from the Sackler family amid multiplying US lawsuits that alleged certain branches of the clan had engaged in deception and misconduct to promote OxyContin despite the public health risks associated with it.
After that first domino fell, many others followed: the Tate, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Met, and other Institutions announced they would no longer accept money from the family members involved in the lawsuits or associated with the opioid crisis. The Sackler Trust and the Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation also announced they would stop all philanthropic giving while the lawsuits were pending. In July, the Louvre in Paris became the first major museum to remove the Sackler name from its walls. Meanwhile, others, such as the V&A in London, have declined to sever ties with the family, which reached tentative settlements in thousands of opioid cases this fall.
3- Are BP and Other Oil Companies No Longer Desirable Sponsors?
Individual donors were not the only museum patrons in the crossfire this year. Activists also stepped up their campaign against BP and other oil-company corporate sponsors of cultural institutions. Hundreds of protesters associated with the group BP or Not BP? Descended on the museum in February to denounce the energy company’s alleged exploitation of Iraq’s on fields following the Iraq War. They returned again in May, and in November. While such efforts have been gathering steam for years, they hit a louder note in 2019 as museums around the world were forced to reckon with the sources of the funding. And one of the British Museum´s own- trustee Ahdaf Soueif- resigned from her position in July, saying she regretted the institution’s lack of engagement with “the legitimate and pressing concern of young people across the planet.” That same month, four major cultural institutions in London, including the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company, committed to signing a new five- year, $8,9 million sponsorship deal with BP: