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Anti-Corporate Pranksters Zing the Whitney Biennial

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Two frontal attacks on the Whitney Biennial in one morning! On top of the letter from the Occupy Wall Street Arts & Labor group demanding an end to the New York museum’s signature event this morning, now a mock press release headlined “Whitney Biennial 2012 to Open March 1; Museum Breaks With Two Corporate Sponsors, Apologizes to Participating Artists” comes across our desk. It’s a note perfect press release, complete with the real-deal graphics and a credible email contact address… but it doesn’t take too much investigation to figure out that it is a Yes Men-style prank, taking aim at the storied museum’s partnership with Sotheby’s — still locked in a dispute with its art handlers — and with Deutsche Bank, charged for its association with the financial crisis.

We re-paste the whole thing, for your pleasure, below:

Whitney Museum of American Art



Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, New York, NY 10021
Press Office: (212) 570-3633,
General Information: (212) 570-3600


Press Preview
Monday, February 27
1:30–4:30 pm

Whitney Museum of American Art

NEW YORK, February 27, 2012 – Sculpture, painting, installations, and photography—as well as dance, theater, music, and film—will fill the galleries of the Whitney Museum of American Art in the latest edition of the Whitney Biennial. With a roster of artists at all points in their careers the Biennial provides a look at the current state of contemporary art in America. This is the seventy-sixth in the ongoing series of Biennials and Annuals presented by the Whitney since 1932, two years after the Museum was founded.

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.

Tickets & Membership
Tickets for the Biennial go on sale February 10 and may be purchased or in person at the Whitney, Wednesday through Sunday during gallery hours. All Biennial performances are free with Museum admission. Note: The Sarah Michelson and Michael Clark performances require special entry tickets (advance ticket booking is strongly suggested); all other events are first-come, first-served. Whitney members receive unlimited express admission to the Museum’s galleries and film programs. To become a member, visit or call (212) 570-3641.

For a closer look, see, with information on what the Biennial artists are presenting, as well as dates and times of residencies, performances, screenings, and events.

About the Whitney
The Whitney Museum of American Art is the world’s leading museum of twentieth-century and contemporary art of the United States. Focusing particularly on works by living artists, the Whitney is celebrated for presenting important exhibitions and for its renowned collection, which comprises over 19,000 works by more than 2,900 artists. With a history of exhibiting the most promising and influential artists and provoking intense debate, the Whitney Biennial, the Museum’s signature exhibition, has become the most important survey of the state of contemporary art in the United States. In addition to its landmark exhibitions, the Museum is known internationally for events and educational programs of exceptional significance and as a center for research, scholarship, and conservation.

Founded by sculptor and arts patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1930, the Whitney was first housed on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village. The Museum relocated in 1954 to West 54th Street and, in 1966, inaugurated its present home, designed by Marcel Breuer, at 945 Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. While its vibrant program of exhibitions and events continues uptown, the Whitney is moving forward with a new building project, designed by Renzo Piano, in downtown Manhattan. Located at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets in the Meatpacking District, at the southern entrance to the High Line, the new building, which has generated immense momentum and support, will enable the Whitney to vastly increase the size and scope of its exhibition and programming space. Ground was broken on the new building in May 2011, and it is projected to open to the public in 2015.

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  1. It is also important to note that NONE of the artists participating in the Whitney Biennial receive ANY form of compensation for their contributions to the biennial. This system, like the unpaid art gallery internship racket, continues to enable privilege to effortlessly rule the art world.

  2. Why should the artists receive compensation simply for exhibiting?!? If they don’t want to participate, then don’t. Gee, if an artist(s) sell a work that’s in the Whitney Biennial exhibition (a practice that often happens) should the artist(s) GIVE The Whitney 50% for exhibiting work that otherwise might not have been seen and sold? Sooooooooo stupid.

  3. @matsonjones
    so you essentially think that the artist should be compensated with the almighty currency of “exposure”? as was cleverly put by WAGE, “exposure” never covers your rent

  4. And as I said, if an artist sells work directly out of a museum exhibition while it’s still up in the exhibition, should the Museum get a cut?

    As I also said, if the artist doesn’t like it, they can opt out. No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head here.

    Furthermore, the idea (supposedly) is that an artist who never exhibits and has no major Museum exhibitions will (maybe) have a harder time “covering the rent.” If exhibiting in serious museums potentially focuses attention and collector interest on an artist in that exhibition, leading to the artist “covering the rent,” is there not some modest value in that? Acting as if the artist is completely doing the museum a favor, and is receiving no value whatsoever in the exchange, is grossly disingenuous.

  5. And the WAGE video you posted is RIDICULOUS!.

    The first quote is “…a museum HIRED me to put on a show…” A museum NEVER ‘hires’ an artist to put on an exhibition, and never, not once, in my entire life, have I ever heard a serious artist say “…a museum HIRED me to put on a show…” It sounds like something a circus act might say, not a serious artist.

    Then they go on to further say that after the fact – after the entire exhibition – they “sent the Museum an invoice.” In every case I know of, the artist ALWAYS has that discussion BEFORE the exhibition. Why? Because aside from the cost to produce the work (and yes, these are called “production costs” and actually discussed IN ADVANCE), there has to be discussions for framing (if applicable), crating, shipping, insurance, and installation (if applicable). No museum, and more importantly, no ARTIST worth their salt, would begin a lick of work before the contractual obligations were outlined and agreed to.

    So now let’s look at how it REALLY works in REAL life. A Museum approaches an artist about a one person exhibition of new work made just for their institution. They discuss the costs involved, and work that out. Then the artist creates the work, and it is packed and shipped. The Museum has now paid the artist for the cost to produce the work. There is an exhibition, with a nice opening, and the artists gets to meet a lot of collectors and trustees and such. Hopefully, many people see it, there is a nice catalogue (oh yeah, the Museum paid for that, too!), and maybe some (nice) reviews appear after. The exhibition ends. Now the work returns to the artist, who gets to sell the work (with their gallery if they have one) – and keep all they money! The Museum gets nothing! The artist has had their show produced and work paid for and a catalogue – for free – and now gets to sell the work and keep the money. And maybe that exposure DID help after all. The alternative is that their was NO museum interest, NO production money, NO exhibition, NO catalogue, NO exposure, and NO work to sell.

    This entire video makes no sense. None. Zero. It’s really puerile.

  6. I see both your points. But some installations can cost quite a bit of money. This is where the artist is losing out. The question should also be asked “if the artists sells a piece of work does the museum get 50% minus the installation costs?” As it stands this is not the case. The museum has more than enough to compensate the installation costs. This is an American phenomenon, and rarely the case in other countries. The artist is doing the museum quite a big favor as is the museum. People don’t want to face the fact that the Arts suffer just as much as other fields in social inequality. The majority of leading artists today came from money and thus were connected to people with money. It’s easy to be seen if your parents are or know collectors. It is the curators duty to see what is really going on in the world of art and not just limited to galleries with names. The whole system is flawed and I agree that artist shouldn’t allow this treatment to be enacted upon themselves. But it’s insulting when an institution that profits so much from it’s biennial and is sitting on so much money won’t front any cost. What it really comes down to is how good of a business person you are, not the work you make.

  7. I can see both points of view too but I often wonder what would happen if every profession was handled in the same way. If anybody would dare to tell a lawyer to work for free because this or that trial will get him loads of attention or media time which will bring more clients… The same for a doctor, teacher, etc. Does any other professional is asked to work for free because of potential attention or clients? Does matsajones have work for free in return for a promess of something that might happen? If so please share!

  8. Jbird: I am happy to share. It’s exactly like a lawyer.

    “… If anybody would dare to tell a lawyer to work for free because this or that trial will get him loads of attention or media time or media time which will bring more clients…”

    YES! It’s called “working on a contingency” – if the lawyer wins the case, they get paid a percentage – if they don’t win, they get zero – ever hear of that?!?

    What about an Art Gallery? If they sell no work, guess what? They make no money. So they work with all these artists they represent, and the artists pay them nothing up front – the gallery is paid only if and when a work sells. Otherwise, the artist doesn’t pay anything. So if THAT’S ok, that an artist doesn’t pay a gallery in advance but only when work sells, what’s the problem here? It’s EXACTLY the same as a Lawyer – a percentage based contingency arrangement.

    And again, let’s be clear – the artist is not working for “free” – their production, framing, crating, shipping, insurance, and installation costs are all being covered. AND they still get to keep all the artwork, and sell that if and when they wish.

  9. But you didn’t shared your experience on working for free! I can see not as a lawyer because you would know that there is not such thing as a free lawyer! Working on contingency for a lawyer does not mean that you only pay if he wins, it means you don’t pay his fee! Of course you still have to pay for expenses, medical reports, expert witnesses, investigation reports, court reporter and so on, and nobody pays for an artist expenses like materials, framing, etc… So no, not EXACTLY as a lawyer, actually almost any professional that works for contingency fees does so in a base plus fee or controlled introduction bases where you have a certain control over the result, which is not the case in a museum/artist relationship. So again no, not EXACTLY as a lawyer… But I am going in a tangent here, so how do you work for free just for the promess of a future reward? (wouldn’t it be great if lawyers work EXACTLY like that!)

  10. @matsonjones
    >And again, let’s be clear – the artist is not working for “free” – their production, framing, crating, shipping, insurance, and installation costs are all being covered. AND they still get to keep all the artwork, and sell that if and when they wish.<

    hmmm, lets be clear — every show i've done NO ONE paid for my production, framing, crating, shipping, insurance, and installation costs. Yes, I keep the work, sure as hell ain't giving it away. So maybe when I become a rich and famous art star they will because i will have gotten sooo much exposure and fame that they will bang down my door for my work. Which btw isn't commodifiable, because not all of us make objects to feed art market. There's such a thing called 'artist fees'. If we artists don't demand to be paid we continue to perpetuate this crap system. In my logic – galleries and museum would not exist if artists didn't make work. The art world, in this country for the most part, is exploitive if it doesn't at the very least cover shipping, handling, insurance and provide a base fee for 'renting' the artist's work to put on their glitzy gala shows for their elite members and charge the public money to see the artists that they've exploited in order to have their exhibitions. There's a lot of ways to get exposure today. Compromising your practice as an artist creates the art world we live in today. I'm all for saying NO unless you pay. Nothing is free in life and neither should be artists.

  11. Did anyone mention how expensive it is to get into the Whitney?

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