Thursday, January 08, 2009

Why I Am Not Renewing My Whitney Membership

Received today:
Dear Ms. Jackson,

It's been several months since your membership expired on October 31. Your support is crucial to the Whitney's vitality and I sincerely hope you'll consider joining us again.

Since its founding, generous individuals like you have helped the Whitney advocate for artistic innovation by responding to emerging trends...

After all, our exhibitions are not just the artists' stories. They are also your story.

Dear Whitney Museum,

It is true--my support IS crucial to the Whitney's vitality. The Whitney relies on emerging artists like myself, not only for direct financial support, but for the media attention, attendance and respect which allow the museum to retain its status as a major cultural arbiter in the contemporary art world. This is why I am not renewing my Whitney membership.

Because the 'story' of 'emerging trends' that the Whitney's curators have chosen to tell, as evidenced by the last two Biennials, is not my story; nor is it the story of the thousands of other emerging artists whose work is aesthetically rich, conceptually engaging, and culturally relevant in a wider arena than that of mere cliquish Art World politics.

Instead, the Whitney has consistently championed art which is conceptually banal and aesthetically bankrupt, selected almost entirely from a pool of artists who have already been filtered by high-profile galleries and cultural organizations, and justified by a morass of pretentious, impenetrable and obfuscatory rhetoric.

As a Whitney member, I receive regular newsletters, exhibition and lecture calendars, and fundraising requests from the museum. Never once in these publications have I seen the Whitney acknowledge or respond to the widespread criticism of its use of egregious 'artspeak' in the most recent Biennial, despite the fact that this issue was discussed in both the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine. I see no evidence that Whitney curators are paying attention to the art blogosphere, which has exploded during the last few years with debate, commentary and original vision at a grassroots level. I sincerely doubt that these curators spend much time looking at artist registries, attending studio tours and alternative exhibitions, or combing through unsolicited submissions in search of unknown artists with powerful vision. The organization's stated goal of 'responding to emerging trends' is a disingenuous distortion of the reality--that its curators pander to the tastes and agendas of a small coterie of insiders, ignoring artistic arenas where passionate engagement is yet unbolstered by wealthy patrons, critical attention, or a curatorial agenda.

As I have come to see it, the Whitney and institutions like it have a vested interest in ensuring that the vast majority of living artists remain voiceless, invisible and powerless. It is our thousands of college tuitions, donations, fees, submissions and applications which keep major art institutions financially viable, and allow their agendas to supercede artists' visions. The aesthetic and conceptual characteristics of the art itself are literally the least important factors in whether or not the work gets shown, if the artistic quality of the past two Biennials is any indication. Far more important are the invisible machinations of profit and ego politics, which parasitically feed upon the resources of artists and art lovers, dependent upon the fact that artists work for free, and will pay for any slim chance at recognition.

After all this, the fact that the Whitney expects literate persons to swallow absurd curatorial verbiage in lieu of a powerful artistic experience is a slap in the face. Cancelling my own membership is the least I can do in the face of such institutional contempt for my intelligence; I can only hope that my example inspires many others to do the same.





15 comments:

Spatula said...

Please, please send it to them in hardcopy.

God, how I agree with every word in there. *drowns in bile*

Pretty Lady said...

Never fear, Spatula, I'm sending it to them in their own prepaid postage envelope, sent to me in the hopes that I'd mail them a check. It will be much more effective if it gets linked and quoted on a bunch of art blogs, however, hint, hint. ;-)

Kate said...

Thank you for taking the time to craft an articulate response that reflects the feelings of so many artists out there. I have always wondered if anyone has done any research on how many unrepresented artists actualy end up in the biennial. You've got my links....

Anonymous said...

Kate, I was pondering that very issue with PL earlier today. It would be interesting to see their statistics on unrepresented artists in the bienniel. Anyone have a mole on the inside?

O

Shea said...

Pretty Lady,
I really, like you, stranger whom I don't really know.
Fuck em. and that's what I say.
Hope all is well with you, and if not, don't despair too much, there is hope.
God bless.

sus said...

Ha! It was worth waiting for this post!

dharmabum said...

This (not to mention the Christian BJ post) is why we love Pretty Lady. I temp at a regional museum with a national reputation-- what she eloquently describes is the way of the world.

Mark

george said...

Damn! PL, that’s one great letter. As repudiations go, this is an instant classic. I fear, however, it will be wasted on some envelope-opening functionary. Perhaps you could nail a copy to the Whitney door ala Luther at Wittenberg.

Also, the letter’s universality would make a fine template for use in similar situations against like-minded institutions. Please forgive me if, some time in the future, I plagiarize the bulk of it (word and spirit) and pass these indignations off as my own – I could never come close left on my own.

Pretty Lady said...

Please plagiarize away. I find no little irony in the fact that although I have been praised for being 'articulate' all the way through two art degrees and beyond, said articulateness has proved more of a handicap on such things as grant applications and artist statements than not. The powers that be use confusion as one of their major tactics of domination.

Spatula said...

Hah! I just read a book called People of the Lie, by a psychiatrist-turned-cleric. His view is that lies and confusion are an instrument of Evil. Yes, capital-E, payroll-of-Satan EEEEVil. Coincidence? I. Think. Not.

Yeah, I'm just gonna up and repost this whole thing.

Pretty Lady said...

Hey, Spatula, I've blogged about that book, probably more than once. M. Scott Peck isn't a cleric, though, he's just a spiritual psychiatrist. Check the archives under 'evil' for more.

Carol Diehl said...

Thanks for continuing to carry the banner!

Bunny Smedley said...

Brilliantly expressed. You are so right in recognising the visual wealth of that part of the art world that places like the Whitney never touch.

I may be sending a version of your letter to the Tate next time subscription time rolls around ...

Jack said...

I assume you'll report on any response you may get from the Whitney, even a form letter, but also report if you get no response (which is quite possible).

k said...

That was great. I picture it impaled upon a letter-spike on the OUT corner of some mail clerk's desk...

PL, I haven't fact-checked this, but I was told these are the same Whitneys who own an old, powerful, storied bank in New Orleans.

When FSLIC packed up shop and went to Atlanta in 1990 or so, some of us decided not to go. Several of us applied at the Whitney.

Who only hired the white males that had no college education. I do believe some had a bit of Banker's School under their belts, at least.

Ah, the Whitney! Doing their bit for Affirmative Action - as it stood when I entered the work world in 1975.

Before anyone gets all excited, please rest assured I have nothing against white males. I simply believe people should be hired based on considerations like competence and education.