By Kate Silzer
13 February 2021
In a powerful 2019 essay in Artforum, Hannah Black, Ciarán Finlayson, and Tobi Haslett made the case that artists who were slated for exhibition in the 2019 Whitney Biennial had a moral obligation to withdraw their work in protest of the then vice chair of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Warren B. Kanders. Kanders had made himself very rich in part through his company, Safariland, which manufactures, among other weapons and police equipment, teargas used by governments to quash civil protests around the world. The authors cite as historical precedent the New York Art Strike Against Racism, War, and Repression, which kicked off in 1970 after Robert Morris closed his own Whitney exhibition in response to “the killing of students at Kent State, the suppression of the Black movement, and Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia.”
In May 1970, groups of activist artists and members of establishment art organizations gathered together in advance of this strike. Among those represented was Women Artists for Revolution or W.A.R., a feminist outgrowth of the Art Workers’ Coalition (A.W.C.), an organization fighting for racial and economic equality within the New York art scene. Cindy Nemser, an art critic and member of W.A.R., reported on the event for The Village Voice, writing that “neither Morris’s brand of moral indignation nor his proposals were strong enough for all those present.” W.A.R., along with the Art Students Coalition, the A.W.C., and Artists and Writers in Protest, voiced “dissatisfaction with what they considered rather mild palliatives.” This article is one of many primary sources compiled in A Documentary HerStory of Women Artists in Revolution, first published in 1971 and reprinted in 2021 by Primary Information.
W.A.R. existed for a brief yet prolific period, from 1969 to 1971. The group ignited a robust movement against gender discrimination within, and widespread exclusion from, New York City’s patriarchal art industry, particularly by galleries and museums who saw art made by women as inherently illegitimate and therefore ineligible for serious consideration. W.A.R. set out to change this.
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