Weapons manufacturer Warren Kanders quits Whitney board

A protest held by Decolonize This Place at the Whitney Museum in March 2019. Photo: Katherine McMahon

Warren Kanders, deputy chair of the Whitney board, has resigned the New York museum following protests over his connection to the defence industry. Kanders is the founder of Safariland LLC, a weapons manufacturer based in Jacksonville, Florida, whose products include riot gear and chemical munition purchased by governments in Turkey, Bahrain and Kuwait, and used by US law enforcement on the Mexican border and against activists in Palestine.

Last week saw the withdrawal of eight artists from the Whitney Biennial in protest.

'The targeted campaign of attacks against me and my company that has been waged these past several months has threatened to undermine the important work of the Whitney' he wrote in his resignation letter, quoted in the New York Times. 'I joined this board to help the museum prosper. I do not wish to play a role, however inadvertent, in its demise.'

Eddie Arroyo, Agustina Woodgate, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, Nicole Eisenman, Forensic Architecture, Nicholas Galanin and Christine Sun Kim asked for their work to be removed from the exhibition, claiming that the Whitney had ignored ongoing concerns over Kanders. 'The museum’s inertia has turned the screw, and we refuse further complicity with Kanders and his technologies of violence' they wrote in a letter to the biennial curators. In March hundreds of artists and theorists had called for the removal of the board member, following similar demands in December made by museum staff. Artist Michael Rakowitz turned down an invitation to exhibit at the biennial over the matter.

Kanders, who is estimated to be worth $700 million, had earlier tried to shutdown criticism, writing in December. 'Safariland’s role is not to determine when and how [its products] are employed. The staff letter implies that I am responsible for the decision to use these products. I am not. That is not an abdication of responsibility, it is an acknowledgement of reality.'

25 July 2019