The art worlds hidden players and games

Open secrets and shameful truths

In November 2020, accusations suddenly started to emerge on the institutional surface of the Dutch art world. Articles and Instagram posts surged upwards from what seemed to be the depths of emotional trauma. Abusers were called out but also galleries, institutes, and schools that host or support them. What had been an open secret became a shameful truth. The illusion of progressiveness was drowned in the embarrassing revelations of sexual transgression; revealing a system that implies and supports sexism and patriarchy.

How come we tolerated this for so long? Why hadn’t the issue been raised earlier in our academies? Is this really just about a few bad apples or is the problem more complex? Is there perhaps something fundamentally wrong with the way social behavior and attitudes are shaped in the art world?

While I pondered these questions, texts and phrases echoed in my head; traces of things I had heard of or read about in the past that had quite explicitly warned me about the practices and environments of the art world. I remembered The Metalanguage of Evil by Cady Noland. The moment where Robert Irwin chose to “play the game”.While studying at the Cooper Union, Paul Pfeiffer describing the art world as “hunger games”. My friend’s dad telling me that with eyes such as mine, I could get “into any gallery I wanted”. The Triple Games of Contemporary Art by Nathalie Heinich.

Could it be that we’ve overestimated the idea of progressiveness in the field of visual arts?

Although this debate was triggered by events taking place around Dutch academic institutions, this doesn’t mean that it is specific to either the Netherlands or the field of education. Since the beginning of the #metoo movement, all kinds of toxic structures have been exposed in the film, music, and advertising industries. Still, it feels as if the visual art world was somehow exempt from all that. After all, aren’t we told time and again that it is from our creativity and imagination the image of a better world is going to emerge? How come the highly competitive entrepreneur and bohemian sexual predator remain the template of successful artistic personalities and careers?

A call for collective action

These are difficult questions that require radical answers. They won’t emerge by themselves. It requires the collective effort of artists and all those who still bother to care about visual art to think about the foundations of our world. We, artists, are not magically beyond the reach systems of oppression and power, be they related to race, class, or gender. How to change these forces within the art world? What are our options if we don’t want to comply with the current situation? What if our refusal automatically leads to marginalization? What does it mean to boycott an artist, a certain environment, or an entire system? What is a radical action, how does one reject or choose not to belong to this field? How to do all this effectively, without being excluded from discussions or experiences that could shape a better future within it?

Although the recent debate around abuses of power within Dutch art institutions seems to have been gently shut down, it is time to reflect on strategies and ways to counteract these behaviors and forms of dominance. What is there to do? What kind of strategies do we need and how to build them? How can we turn all the traumatic, dramatic experiences into a struggle, a force which will help us deconstruct and dismantle these oppressions? The ones who care about art and aesthetic production will have together and start a meaningful on-going conversation on these and related topics. To initiate collective consciousness-raising in order to develop strategies for radical change.

To find more about the platforms initiating actions and strategies against sexual abuse and forms of oppression in the creative fields :

French visual artist and writer based in Amsterdam. To contact me,