Design Museum pulls work from Hope to Nope after artists’ dismay over arms event

A third of the exhibits in the political graphics show have been returned to the original designers after they requested their work back following the museum’s decision to host a private event by defence company Leonardo.

Design Museum’s Hope to Nope exhibition, courtesy of the Design Museum

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.

Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • Neil August 5, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    Hi, I was surprised at how few comments there were on this subject when it was first reported. However yesterday in The Guardian there was a short report and a photo of the exhibitors removing their work so some action was taken. They said about fourty exhibits were removed.

  • David Hodgson August 6, 2018 at 4:09 am

    Not that I hold out much hope, but maybe some of the arms people might be moved to think about what they do because of the art. Isn’t that meant to be the point of the art. Unless of course you think Art should be just for people who agree with you.

  • D. Budd August 8, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    From all I’ve read, the museum seems very dismissive of the artists’ concerns. The Design Museum failed to align event planning with a values-based mission (assuming they have one), or with concurrent exhibits in possible conflict. It makes the DM look pretty tone-deaf. The artists donated their works for the exhibit, and weren’t exploited by activists–they ARE activists. Someone in the DM’s PR department might have looked at the two events and anticipated potential problems. The money-making events branch does not appear to care about the brand or its PR issues. That is poor internal brand management, IMO.

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