Two artists who collaborated on a project on view at the newly opened art and performance space the Shed have withdrawn their work in protest of a board member’s support of President Donald Trump.
The institution complied with A.L. Steiner and Zackary Drucker‘s request to pull their art on August 10, the day after real estate developer and Shed board member Stephen Ross held a high-profile fundraiser in the Hamptons to support Trump’s 2020 campaign. “Instead of having a fundraiser for whatever he could have a fundraiser for, he had one for Trump,” Steiner told the Observer, which first reported the news.
News of Ross’s fundraiser sent ripples through many of the businesses in which he invests, including fitness companies SoulCycle and Equinox, which have aligned themselves with progressive values and whose customers live largely in liberal metropolises. It also led fashion designers Rag & Bone and Prabal Gurung to pull their planned runway shows from Hudson Yards and the Shed, where they were set to present their spring 2020 collections this fall.
By comparison, Steiner and Drucker’s act of defiance received considerably less attention. They withdrew their installation Before/After (2007/2019) from the current exhibition “Open Call 2” the day after the fundraiser, but did not contact the press or make a public statement. The Observer only learned of the withdrawal by reading the explanatory wall text in the galleries. (“It’s difficult to manifest change by solely getting attention in the short-term,” Steiner said when asked about her decision to keep the protest quiet.)
Steiner and Drucker did not immediately respond to artnet News’s request for comment. Representatives for the Shed did not respond by publication time, but Steiner told the Observer that the staff was “supportive” of their decision.
Even before news of the Trump fundraiser broke, “it felt extremely difficult to participate in the exhibition,” Steiner said, citing the $6 billion in tax breaks Hudson Yards had received from the government. (Ross is the chairman of the Related Companies, the developer of Hudson Yards, where the Shed is located.)
She noted that she had not shown new work since the 2016 presidential election, though she displayed older or collaborative work twice this year: once at the Shed and once at the Whitney Biennial, which has been dogged by similar controversy over the financial ties of its board members. “It goes to show myself that it’s too difficult for me to participate right now,” Steiner told the Observer.
The artists’ withdrawal comes just a few weeks after eight others demanded their own works be removed from the Whitney Biennial because of the museum’s relationship to then-vice chair Warren Kanders, CEO of weapons manufacturer Safariland. After months of sustained protest, Kanders resigned from the Whitney’s board in late July, and the artists agreed to keep their works on view. A similar tactic was adopted by 11 artists participating in the Aichi Triennale, who withdrew or modified their works to protest the censorship of other participating artists’ work.
The latest withdrawal at the Shed highlights the increasing tension surrounding institutions accepting support from trustees whose sources of income are controversial. “We are actively having our rights clawed back, and the institutions we are connected to have a responsibility to advocate for us as cultural producers,” Drucker told the Observer. “If they’re not, then we withdraw our presentation because they’re benefiting from our creative labor.”
Before/After features several photographs collaged onto a sheet of drywall that present the artists’ nude or semi-nude bodies. It was featured in a section of the show titled “She Models for Her,” which is inspired by the legacy of 19th-century painter Suzanne Valadon. The show, “Open Call 2,” is the second installment of the Shed’s large-scale commissioning program dedicated to presenting new work by emerging artists and collectives.
In a recent statement, Ross said he and the president “agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions…. I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education, and environmental sustainability.” In another statement, he noted: “In terms of Trump, there’s good and bad obviously, with anything.”
Steiner bristled at this line in particular, telling the Observer: “How do we live in a world that equivocates the torture, abuse, and murder of people of color as a policy position and decides what part of it is good?”
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