Over 100 Top Models + Time's Up Join Model Alliance In Open Letter to Victoria's Secret

On Tuesday morning, over 100 models, including Christy Turlington Burns, Edie Campbell, Karen Elson, Milla Jovovich, Doutzen Kroes, and Gemma Ward, signed an open letter addressed directly to Victoria’s Secret. The letter petitioned the lingerie brand to take concrete actions in protecting models against sexual misconduct.

The letter was properly addressed to Victoria’s Secret’s CEO John Mehas and it pulled no punches:

We are writing today to express our concern for the safety and wellbeing of the models and young women who aspire to model for Victoria’s Secret. In the past few weeks, we have heard numerous allegations of sexual assault, alleged rape, and sex trafficking of models and aspiring models. While these allegations may not have been aimed at Victoria's Secret directly, it is clear that your company has a crucial role to play in remedying the situation. From the headlines about L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner’s close friend and associate, Jeffrey Epstein, to the allegations of sexual misconduct by photographers Timur Emek, David Bellemere, and Greg Kadel, it is deeply disturbing that these men appear to have leveraged their working relationships with Victoria’s Secret to lure and abuse vulnerable girls.

L Brands CEO Les Wexner (l) and former CMO Ed Razek (r) in happier times.

L Brands CEO Les Wexner (l) and former CMO Ed Razek (r) in happier times.

The letter then proceeds to invite Victoria’s Secret to join the RESPECT Program —a program of the Model Alliance—is the only existing anti-sexual harassment program designed by and for models.

Signatory companies make a binding commitment to require their employees, agents, vendors, photographers and other contractors to follow a code of conduct that protects everyone’s safety on the job, and reduces models’ vulnerability to mistreatment. Models have access to an independent, confidential complaint mechanism, with swift and fair resolution of complaints and appropriate consequences for abusers. Further, RESPECT includes a robust training program aimed toward prevention, to ensure that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities.

“Corporations tend to treat the discovery of abuses as public-relations crises to be managed rather than human-rights violations to be remedied,” says Sara Ziff, the founder and executive director of the Model Alliance. “The RESPECT Program provides Victoria’s Secret an opportunity not only to right the wrongs of the past but also to work towards prevention.”

Ziff recently penned an essay for the Cut detailing her own encounter with Epstein as a young model. She highlighted just how long an imbalance of power and lack of protections have “plagued” the industry. She wrote: “Now, we need the support of agencies, publishing companies, and fashion brands who want to do better by the talent who they purport to protect.”

In November, the Model Alliance issued a statement following disgraced L Brands Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek’s infamous Vogue interview in advance of Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Razek retired from Victoria’s Secret on Monday.

Prada Marfa Architect Ronald Rael's TED Talk Creates Provocative Dialogue Around Borders

Architect Ronald Rael delivered a thought-provoking 10 minute TED talk in Dec. 2018 about borders in general and the Mexico-US border specifically. It's an excellent watch in these complicated times.

Rael built the famous Prada, Marfa store in the middle of nowhere. I've written about Marfa but never understood until now -- with further reading -- that 1) Prada, Marfa is made primarily of dirt; and 2) Prada, Marfa was a deliberate political installation, as well as an art installation in an upscale, educated, artistic place in Texas. You MUST read the next two paragraphs. Marfa link also in comment:

Visiting Rael’s website, I learned so much more about the political experience of creating the Prada Marfa store.

“ On July 13, 2005, 22 miles north of the U.S./Mexico border, patrol agents from the Marfa Sector of the United States Border Patrol surrounded five people traveling through the Chihuahua Desert in West Texas. Suspecting illegal activity, the agents had been informed that illegal immigrants were detected by the tethered aerostat radar system hovering overhead that provides counter-narcotics and border crossing surveillance and can distinguish targets down to a meter across at ground level.

It is not uncommon that coyotes, smugglers involved in the profession of human trafficking, drive the desolate roads searching for “wets”, the derogatory term for illegal immigrants, in the vast desert expanse surrounding Marfa. When the five suspects were questioned on the nature of their business the answer was not so clearly comprehended by the Border Patrol. The suspects were a gallery curator, a photographer, an artist, and two architects who were discussing the selection of the future building site of Prada Marfa, a minimalist sculpture that replicates the luxury boutique where the Fall 2005 line of Prada shoes and bags were to be displayed."

After Warren Kanders Resignation From Whitney, Museum Boards Ponder Their Futures

Warren Kanders and his wife Allison, who also resigned from the Whitney Museum along with her husband.

Warren Kanders and his wife Allison, who also resigned from the Whitney Museum along with her husband.

Last week ended on a positive note for protesters and artists committed to forcing the resignation of Warren B. Kanders as vice chair of the board of New York’s Whitney Museum.

Protesters were adamant that his ownership of Safariland, a defense-manufacturing company that supplied state-of-the-art tear gas to quell protesters everywhere in the world disqualified him as any kind of representative of artists opposed to global militarization. Evidence mounted that Kanders’ stake in Sierra Bullets,linked him directly to high-velocity ammunition allegedly used by Israeli soldiers in Gaza against Palestinian civilian protesters.

With Kanders out at the Whitney and no specified game plan on how to move forward, all parties involved from artists to activists, patrons and buyers of art are asking what happens next. ARTnews writes that the Kanders’ resignation is a sign “of the shifting balance between museum boards and their critics, with protesters believing that they have won the day.

Don’t overthink the situation, say many of the critics, who have generally taken a stand against defense contractors and fortunes made from armaments worldwide. The Sackler family also has been the target of protests as they are tied deeply — if not exclusively — as profiteers tied to America’s epidemic drug crisis launched by OxyContin.

Image of Whitney protests  via ARTNews.

Image of Whitney protests via ARTNews.

Among the artists at the Whitney Biennial who best symbolized the contradictions for artists involved in the conflict was San Juan–based artist Nibia Pastrana Santiago. was not among the eight artists who had withdrawn from the Whitney Biennial. But she was among the citizens of Puerto Rican citizens who protested the official residence of Puerto Rico’s then Governor Ricardo Rosselló, before he also resigned at week’s end.

“I couldn’t breathe, my eyes are burning, we were following each other…running and holding strangers hands…’cause you can’t see,” Santiago told artnet News of the impact of the tear gas. “I felt like drowning, I felt like fainting. Fortunately there were colleagues with remedies. Once I caught my senses again, ’cause really the gasses disorient you, we went back to the line.”

The artists explained that the protests were all peaceful and she was stunned to see tear gas used. She had no way of knowing if Kanders’ company Safariland had manufactured the tear gas or not, although both Hyperallergic and the Nation argue for a connection.

From his point of view Kanders argued that it was his job to manufacture the tear gas for law enforcement agencies, not determine the ethics of situations in which it was used.

Speaking about the Kanders resignation, Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s director, said: “Here’s a man who has given a tremendous amount of his time and money to young, often edgy and radical artists — somebody who is very progressive — that’s one of the ironies of all this.” Weinberg continued:

“The Whitney Museum is one of the most progressive, the most diverse, the most engaged, open programs of any major institution in the country,” Mr. Weinberg added. “Every museum director is looking at us right now and saying, ‘Gee, if the Whitney is being targeted, what’s going to happen to us?’”

artnet reminds us that conflicts about museum boards are hardly new, sharing this 1969 image from the Guerrilla Art Action Group, who protested then-MOMA trustee Nelson Rockefeller’s ties to weapons used in the Vietnam War.

Hans Haacke,  MoMA Poll  (1970). Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

Hans Haacke, MoMA Poll (1970). Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

The conflicts that exist on museum boards are not found in other institutions, also reliant on donations. A donor to Harvard clearly get his or her name on a building or lecture hall. The university president will surely take a call from a big donor without delay, and children and grandchildren are given preferential treatment. But donors aren’t sitting on the governing board of the university in most cases. Professionals with expertise run those institutions.

In art museums, donors serve as the institution’s primary governing body, the reward of making major donations. One can argue that their own art investments can increase in value through their efforts in planning museum shows and making and breaking certain artists. These same donors are also charged with policing the very institutions they are governing — which is an impossible ethical situation, say critics.

After researching the 2016 US elections and publishing ‘Museums, Money, and Politics’, artist Andrea Fraser wrote that her project “developed out of my personal sense of horror at discovering supporters of radical right-wing politicians serving on the boards of arts organizations with which I work and whose missions are directly threatened by the policies these politicians advance.”

Fraser asks why museums should be governed by donors, when there is no good reason. artnet writes:

Such a shift, she (Fraser) says, would also make museums more aligned with other fields, like medicine, science, social services, and education, where board members are selected based on professional expertise, scholarship, and their ability to further the institution’s mission. “The arts appear to be at the extreme of prioritizing wealth over all other criteria,” she notes. “It is easy to see how major decisions like the hiring of directors and architects are impacted in many museums by the lack of a range of stakeholders on boards.”