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John R. Blakinger, Terra Visiting Professor of American Art, University of...

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Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford

1a South Parks Road

Oxford

OX1 3UB

United Kingdom

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Plenary lecture: '“To Remain Silent is to be Complicit”: Arts Funding in the Trump Era'

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In November 2018, a photograph of Honduran migrants fleeing tear gas fired by officers at the US-Mexico border ricocheted across the Internet. The striking photo focused debate on the Trump administration’s immigration policies, but also on a more unlikely topic: arts funding. The tear gas canisters fired at asylum seekers were manufactured by Safariland, a company specializing in the sale of “less-lethal” riot control equipment. Safariland founder and CEO Warren B. Kanders is also a vice chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This unexpected link between the Trump administration and the Whitney prompted demonstrations in the Museum’s lobby. A letter to the Museum’s Director signed by nearly a hundred Whitney employees declared: “to remain silent is to remain complicit.”

What are the ethical, moral, and political implications of private arts funding? This lecture examines protests led by groups like Decolonize This Place and Occupy Museums at the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History. It revises the concept of the culture war for the current moment, revealing how old controversies have emerged in a new form. While the infamous debates of the 1980s and 1990s focused on right-wing opposition to public funding and government support, a new set of controversies instead reflects left-wing opposition to private funding and even specific benefactors. Financing the arts today has created increasingly complex entanglements between museums and the ultra-wealthy, whose political donations and business practices are not always aligned with the mandate of the museum. Immigration, climate change, foreign policy, the opioid crisis: current events that may seem separate from the day-to-day operations of the museum are now intimately linked. The museum is target for new forms of activism.

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John R. Blakinger is the 2018-2019 Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art at the University of Oxford. He studies modern and contemporary art, with a focus on aesthetics and politics. He received his PhD in art history from Stanford University in 2016 and was a two-year predoctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and a two-year postdoctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the University of Southern California. His book Gyorgy Kepes: Undreaming the Bauhaus is forthcoming from the MIT Press in June 2019; other writings have appeared in Tate Papers, CAA Reviews, Design Issues, and edited volumes. Blakinger is now conceptualizing a new book-length project exploring recent controversies in the arts.

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Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford

1a South Parks Road

Oxford

OX1 3UB

United Kingdom

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