The Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN) stands in solidarity with Defend Boyle Heights and the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (B.H.A.A.A.D.) in their November 8th action against Laura Owens, Gavin Brown, and the Whitney Museum. We stand in opposition to predatory gallerists and investors invading established communities for monetary gain.
From Boyle Heights to Bushwick and from Highland Park to Harlem, rapid and rampant gentrification displaces and endangers long-time residents, primarily people of color and low-income families. The Whitney Museum of American Art moved from the Upper East Side to its current location on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District in 2015, following a long history of elitist art-world figures leading the tide of gentrification. On November 8th, the museum celebrates the opening of a survey exhibition of 60 works by Laura Owens, purveyor of 356 Mission in Boyle Heights and an auxiliary space in Chinatown. These are both working class migrant communities, whose residents struggle to afford their skyrocketing rents as young, white, affluent artists snatch up vacant property for profit.
Laura Owens, Gavin Brown, and other members of their community have been instrumental in transforming the West Village — a neighborhood once home and workplace for many working-class people, and site of an iconic queer and trans community — into a rich tourist playground. This transformation was facilitated by a rezoning that depended on artists and gallerists like Owens and Brown to create a draw for the primarily white and wealthy clientele that luxury developers hope to attract. Owens and Brown remain unaccountable for the choice they make to engage in the displacement of communities of color and the working class, despite having the capital to show work anywhere else. According to its own website, “The Whitney has a longstanding commitment to Owens, who has been featured in two Biennials, and is significantly represented in the Museum’s collection.” It is clear that neither the artists nor the museum have an interest in actually engaging the local community in important dialogue about the art world’s role in displacing communities. By continuing to ignore these various communities’ call to accountability, Owens, Brown and the Whitney Museum reveal that they do not care about the people they displace and that they care only about the real estate they sit on.