The Design Museum has removed over 30 artists’ work from its main exhibition at their request, after they expressed dismay at the organisation for hosting a private event by an arms company.
Last week, artists, designers and activists signed a letter to have their work pulled from the museum’s Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 exhibition, after it hosted a private event by aerospace and defence company Leonardo in its atrium on 17 July.
Museum “deeply hypocritical”
The artists, who include the likes of Shepard Fairey, Jonathan Barnbrook and Fraser Muggeridge, felt the museum was “deeply hypocritical” for hosting this event while running a temporary exhibition on political design, which showcases how graphics have been used to protest power, injustice and corporations.
The signed letter was posted publicly on the CAAT (Campaign Against Arms Trade) website, with the request for the museum to remove the work by 1 August.
In a statement last week, the museum said it was “reviewing its due diligence policy related to commercial and fundraising activities”, and said it was in discussions with the artists to try to resolve the issue and convince them to keep their work in the exhibition until it closed on the 12 August.
Museum felt “targeted by activists”
In a later statement, the museum said that it had an obligation to inform the public in a “balanced and neutral way” and said it felt the organisation had been “targeted by activists”.
“Professional activists whose work didn’t feature in the exhibition took the view that the museum had acted wrongfully and were quick to exploit the situation,” the statement read.
“We will not be seen as an easy target and a surrogate for the real targets of these campaigners. We do not want our programmes to be co-opted by the agenda of others and we stand by our curatorial independence.”
A third of pieces given back and show now free
The museum’s attempt to keep the work in the show was unsuccessful, and the museum has now confirmed that it removed one third of the roughly 100 artworks from the exhibition on 31 July, and they have been returned to the campaigning artists.
In a new statement, the Design Museum tells Design Week: “As of 1 August, some artwork has been removed from the exhibition, before the exhibition closing date of 12 August, at the request of the lenders. As a result, and until the end of the run, the exhibition will now be free to visit.
“We are sorry for any disappointment caused for visitors. We believe that it is important to give political graphics a platform at the museum and it is a shame that the exhibition could not continue as it was curated until its original closing date.”
Exhibitors’ thoughts on the event
Exhibiting artists and show’s co-curator Lucienne Roberts previously spoke to Design Week and expressed their concerns with the Design Museum’s actions.
Craftsperson Shelley Hoffman said that the museum’s decision to host the event was “repulsive”, while graphic designer Tim Fishlock said that it “humiliated the contributors” of the exhibition.
Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 is now running for free until 12 August 2018, with two-thirds of the original artworks.