Monday, February 27, 2012
Ersatz Whitney 2012 website now online, announcing the Biennial's break with corporate sponsors Sotheby's and Deutsche Bank.
The 2012 Whitney Biennial held a well attended media preview today and also allowed Sotheby's auction house, one of the exhibition's major corporate sponsors, to host a private preview reception this evening.
Also today, a hoax website appeared online, http://whitney2012.org/, seemingly a direct intervention by art hacktivists, possibly the Yes Men or Arts and Labor, a “working group” of Occupy Wall Street.
It announces that the Biennial has broken ties with both Sotheby's and another corporate sponsor, Deutsche Bank, and returned their money. Reasons cited are the lockout of unionized art handlers and secondary market speculation by Sotheby's, and mortgage fraud by Deutsche Bank.
The site goes on to apologize for the Biennial's association with these corporations, and "hopes the participating artists will join us in denouncing the wrongs committed by our former sponsors."
In general appearance, in graphics, layout and content, this bogus site closely mirrors the museum's actual site, http://whitney.org/ - so much so that artnet.com, and possibly other art news portals, were briefly taken in by the hoax.
Relevant text from the hoax site appears below:
2012 WHITNEY BIENNIAL TO OPEN MARCH 1;
MUSEUM BREAKS WITH TWO CORPORATE SPONSORS,
APOLOGIZES TO PARTICIPATING ARTISTS
The Biennial will open on March 1 despite the Whitney's recent action to return money provided by two major sponsors of the Biennial—Sotheby's and Deutsche Bank—whose recent corporate conduct has made it impossible for the Museum to maintain a partnership with them.
ABOUT OUR SPONSORS
The Whitney will find a way to open the 2012 Biennial in spite of the Museum's difficult decision to break with the two major corporate sponsors of the Biennial. Regretfully, the Whitney entered into a sponsor agreement with Sotheby's before the auction house locked out forty-three of its unionized art handlers once their contract expired in July 2011. Last year saw record-breaking sales with profits over $100 million for Sotheby's; the pay of the CEO alone doubled to $6 million. Yet Sotheby's has sought to break organized labor by starving their workers into submission—locked out of their jobs and without wages since August, these workers and their families lost their health care benefits at the end of 2011.
The Whitney recognizes that the financial speculation on art taking place in secondary sales of works benefits wealthy investors far more than the artists who created the works, let alone the workers who craft, move, install, maintain, or guard them. The Museum understands the importance of providing working people—including artists who must work second jobs to support their careers—with the livable wages and healthcare for which the Sotheby's art handlers are fighting. Sotheby's actions are a direct attack on the Museum's mission to support and collect the work of living artists. For these reasons, the Whitney cannot allow Sotheby's to tarnish the image of the Biennial any longer.
The Whitney also announces its break with major sponsor Deutsche Bank, which is facing numerous lawsuits and accusations of fraud from both investors and the U.S. government. Deutsche Bank and its subsidiary Mortgage IT profited from selling and insuring mortgages, and are currently in litigation with the U.S. government over a $1 billion claim for fraudulently obtained federal mortgage insurance; because of their dealings in mortgage-based collateralized debt obligations, they have also been sued by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association. The reckless and even fraudulent financial speculation by banks like Deutsche Bank has created enormous social costs in terms of lost jobs, savings, and homes. The Whitney does not want the bank's sponsorship of the Biennial to distract from these serious matters or to reflect poorly on the Museum, and so must end the sponsorship agreement.
AN APOLOGY TO THE PARTICIPATING ARTISTS
The Whitney is proud to be able to redistribute resources from major corporate donors and super-wealthy individuals to deserving artists, especially within a political and economic system that concentrates wealth for a tiny minority while the majority grows poorer, suffers without healthcare, is forced from their homes, or goes without food. However, the Whitney also recognizes that some donors and sponsors may seek to use their partnership with the Museum to whitewash their image and to hide the social costs of unchecked capital accumulation behind a façade of charity. These sponsors seek to capitalize on the creativity, intelligence, and culture brought into the world by contemporary artists even as the sponsors make that world unlivable. The Whitney recognizes that many emerging artists cannot refuse to participate in a major museum show without endangering their careers, and so apologizes deeply to the participating artists for allowing them to be exploited by the former sponsors in this manner. The Museum hopes the participating artists will join us in denouncing the wrongs committed by our former sponsors and trusts the artists will use the resources provided to them to foster a more vibrant, livable, just, and sustainable world.
Considering the many and diverse art forms that are represented in the 2012 Biennial, from painting, sculpture, printmaking and photography to installation, video, digital and performance art, it remains to be seen how the Whitney curators and administrators respond to this particular online intervention, which obviously offers a timely, elegant and relevant bit of institutional critique, an especially favored genre in the discourse of contemporary art.