The “long march through the institutions” continues apace, this time with a storming of the galleries of the Whitney Museum of American Art. As Herbert Marcuse wrote in Counterrevolution and Revolt, radicals now work “against the established institutions while working within them.” This past summer the New York museum found itself on the wrong side of history when artist protestors zeroed in on a board member who had given millions to the institution but whose business dealings did not conform to their political standards. In his letter of resignation to his fellow board members, the trustee Warren B. Kanders expressed little understanding of our radical age as he was fed to the mob:
Art, as I know it, is not intended to force one-sided answers, or to suppress independent thinking. And yet, these recent events have illustrated how a single narrative, created and sustained by groups with a much larger and more insidious agenda, can overwhelm that spirit.
Did Mr. Kanders really think his Jeff Koons would save him from revolutionary justice? Over the years we have had our differences with the Whitney Museum. We would be hard pressed to identify a “Whitney Biennial” we much cared for. The new downtown headquarters is also more showpiece than showcase—which is too bad, given the Whitney’s solid examinations of American modernism. But the episode reminds us of the civil war that is now waging between the neoliberal establishment, represented by the progressive-flag-waving Whitney, and a resurgent radical Left.
Mr. Kanders could have been anyone—and he will be far from the last victim if the Left continues this way. The real target here is the American system of philanthropy and the free association of its private boards, which have long drawn Leftist ire. Kanders was a target of opportunity—just like the late David Koch, or the Sackler family, or now the real estate mogul Stephen Ross.
Under Director Adam Weinberg, the Whitney showed a failure of leadership in allowing the protests to continue, just as the institution two years before permitted grumblers to censor one of its paintings. Neoliberals always believe they can outflank the rhetoric of the Left while maintaining the prerogatives of the center. Next time they should just send the radicals packing.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 38 Number 2, on page 2
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