The Whitney Gets Punk’d
Last week I forwarded a link to a press release issued by the Whitney Museum of American Art stating they were returning the Biennial funding provided to them by Sotheby’s and the Deutsche Bank. According to the release, the Whitney couldn’t in good conscience partner with either Sotheby’s or the Deutsche bank given their “recent corporate conduct.”
The full release, which can be read here, details which aspects of their corporate conduct are particularly contentious. It succinctly cites Sotheby’s ongoing lockout of art handlers since the summer of 2011 amidst record breaking sales and profits and the Deutsche Bank’s legal embroilment in several cases of mortgage fraud. Accordingly, the release states that continued association would “tarnish the image of the Biennial” and that their sponsorship would “detract from these serious matters.”
In a powerful and profound statement, the press release concludes by apologising to the participating artists, promising a redistribution of remaining sponsorship stating:
“The Whitney…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.”
Wow. Good on the Whitney for taking a stand and making such a strong statement! Except it seems like the Whitney was Punk’d (and not the first time either - apparently, in 1970, a press release on Whitney letterhead claimed that 50% of the artists participating an annual art exhibition would be women - it didn’t happen either).
Ashton Kutcher - “You’ve just been Punk’d”
The website definitely looks and feels legitimate, in fact I clicked through several of the links on the supposed Whitney page, which sent me to the real Whitney page. However, my suspicion that something was amiss was aroused when I couldn’t get back to the page with the press release denouncing the sponsorships (because it isn’t linked on the actual Whitney page), but could access other press releases announced by the real Whitney.
I was curious to know when the phony press release had been issued, since no date was could be located on the page itself, so I forwarded the URL to a friend of mine who is far more web savvy than I. Apparently, the format of the release makes it impossible to know when it was published, but clues suggest it was sometimes towards the end of February. A quick Google search revealed a couple of articles about the false release and the flurry of responses it received
It appears I was far from the only one fooled and that shortly after its initial release, twitter was abuzz with people congratulating the Whitney on standing up and showing support for the artists and for calling for corporate accountability. Friends posted the link on their facebook pages applauding the actions of the Museum (and then of the people who made the prank possible). For its part, the Whitney is trying to have the page taken down, but so far has obviously been unsuccessful in its attempts.
While the false press release may have been a hoax, the initial outpouring of support for the (supposed) denouncement of corporate control over events like the Whitney points to a growing desire for transparency from corporate sponsors. It also demonstrates a really great example of political action on behalf of the technologically proficient hackers who concocted the whole ruse. most importantly it raises awareness about the side of corporate sponsorship that is often hidden from plain view and challenges people to think more critically about partnerships, and about what they read.