Artists, beware!

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Contemporary artists, beware of angry independent people!

Anti-Gentrification Activists Protest Laura Owens Exhibition at the Whitney Museum

An alliance of activists from Los Angeles and New York highlighted the role of the artist and her dealer, Gavin Brown, in artwashing the gentrification of working-class neighborhoods.


Members of Defend Boyle Heights and Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD) and other anti-gentrification groups rallying outside the Whitney Museum during Laura Owens’s opening on Wednesday, November 8. (photo courtesy BHAAAD)

Benjamin Sutton: What is it about Owens’s opening at the Whitney specifically that caused all these anti-gentrification groups from Los Angeles and New York to bend together for Wednesday’s protest?

Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement: The gallery business and the real estate business in New York and LA are deeply connected. Laura Owens and Gavin Brown, the same hip artists, wealthy investors, and blue-chip gallerists are developing their enterprises on both coasts, many of them directly in Boyle Heights and in other working-class POC neighborhoods.

From Soho to Chelsea, to Chinatown, Harlem, to gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, our NYC comrades have witnessed the vicious cycles of gentrification and the late stages of artwashing for decades. They understand the only way out of this is for Boyle Heights to organize and defend the community, and therefore came together to stand with us in our resistance.
Our statement explains the similarities of our struggles in detail.

BS: In their search for affordable studio spaces, artists often feel incapable of doing much to stop real estate developers from exploiting them as early gentrifiers; what are some steps artists should take to end this process?

BHAAAD: First of all, we want to emphasize that Laura Owens and Gavin Brown can afford to be ANYWHERE. Our statement clearly explains the economics behind their facades. They are colonizing POC neighborhoods to benefit both their public image and their enterprises.

Artists need to listen to the demands of the communities that have built strength despite being looted by those in power. The people of Boyle Heights, Harlem, Chinatown, South Bronx, Corona, Flatbush are all organizing and fighting landlords and developers. Support them to build community control and autonomy. Listen to their demands. Redistribute your creative labor, material, and resources to build solidarity with those whose immediate situations are more urgent, instead of to billionaires who ultimately don’t give a shit about any of us.

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