In the Post-Warren Kanders Era, Artists and Dealers Wonder: Should Collectors Be Vetted?

Some artists are doing their best to disentangle themselves from collectors they deem politically inadequate. Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

The bruising battle this spring that led to the resignation of Warren Kanders from the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art has the art world wondering: What’s next?

This week, answers began to emerge as protesters hit the Museum of Modern Art to demonstrate against board member and art collector Steven Tananbaum, whom activists say has profited from the debt crisis in Puerto Rico. The demonstration came on the heels of another protest, against MoMA board member Laurence D. Fink, the CEO of the investment firm BlackRock, which has large investments in private prisons.

Now, some are wondering how this heightened level of scrutiny could affect the art market. As Miami collector Martin Margulies put it to artnet News: “Do artists inspect the background of every collector who buys their artwork?”

A Thin Red Line

New York dealer Anton Kern, who represents Nicole Eisenman, one of nine artists who threatened to withdraw from the Whitney Biennial in protest against Kanders before his resignation, told artnet News that he closely hews to the wishes of the artist, a 2015 MacArthur “genius” grantee.

“Nicole has always cared about where her work is placed, and the gallery has always vetted collectors of her work, and all of our artists’ work,” he wrote in an email.

Another Whitney Biennial participant, Nicholas Galanin, an Alaskan artist of Tlingit/Aleut background, is even more direct.

“Using capital to create a project can be as valuable as denying it,” he said in an email. “In 1997, my uncle carved the first totem to be raised in our community in the last 100 years. Holland America, a tourism cruise agency, wanted to sponsor and oversee the event. In order for this event not to be consumed by tourism sponsorship, we denied the funding. The pole still stands.”




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