Activists from LA and NY highlighted the role of the artist and her dealer in artwashing the gentrification of working-class neighborhoods.
“Laura Owens, Gavin Brown, our hoods unite to take you down! Leave our hoods and do what’s right: Give your keys to Boyle Heights!” So went the chant intoned by activists in the galleries of the Whitney Museum and at its main entrance during Wednesday night’s VIP opening for the institution’s Laura Owens survey show.
A focal point of the action was to draw out the parallels between the rapid gentrification of neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles, and how artists and galleries in both cities often contribute to that process.
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: What was the response — from Owens and Gavin Brown, from the curatorial and security staff at the Whitney, from attendees at the opening — to your action?
BHAAAD: Gavin Brown walked by the outside rally, hid his face from view while flipping the protesters off. Museum patrons also taunted us, flipped us off, PHYSICALLY ATTACKED our NYC comrades, and ignored us. This was all caught on the livestream. (Editor’s note: Hyperallergic has not been able to independently verify some of the incidents mentioned in the statement.)