Amazon Cuts Ties with Riverside’s Cheech Museum After Show with Work Critical of the Tech Company

Amazon has reportedly ended its financial support for the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture in Riverside, California, after the institution included an artwork that the company deemed critical of its business strategy in Southern California’s Inland Empire.

The news was first reported earlier this week by the Los Angeles Times. Just days after the article was published, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and executive chairman, who has recently become a high-profile collector, was spotted at Art Basel Miami Beach, one of the country’s leading art fairs.

Amazon’s decision to cut ties with the Cheech was revealed in a leaked document laying out several of the company’s business and PR strategies for 2024. It was posted to X (formerly Twitter) by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the chief officer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and a former California State assemblyperson.

The L.A. Times was able to independently verify the authenticity of the document, and an Amazon spokesperson did not dispute its veracity to the paper.

Amazon spokesperson Jennifer Flagg told ARTnews that the L.A. Times article was a “blatant mischaracterization of Amazon’s work, and in fact, Amazon is proud to be engaged philanthropically in communities across the country.”

The document reads, “We will not continue to support organizations that did not result in measurable positive impact in our brand and reputation. Additionally, we will not fund organizations that have positioned themselves antagonistically toward our interests.”

It cites the Cheech as one example because a 2023 exhibition, titled “Life Logistics,” included triptych of screenprints by Toni Sanchez, a student at the University of California, Riverside studying political science. The three prints show an Amazon warehouse with flames beneath it; surrounding the warehouse are block letters reading “BURN THEM ALL DOWN.”

In an email to the Inland Empire–based newspaper the Press-Enterprise, Sanchez said that the work “stems from the fact that we are tired of not being heard from city officials who vote on and approve warehouse building. We need them to listen to us community members when we tell them what we want from them and how we want the land to be used, whether that’s for community parks, community gardens, anything but warehouses.”

Amazon had given a $5,000 donation to the Cheech in both 2022 and 2023. But going forward, the company said it would no longer be providing anymore money because “the artist then gave an interview expressing hostility towards Amazon.”

The Cheech opened in 2022 after the Riverside Art Museum, which manages the center, secured a gift from actor and ARTnews Top 200 Collector Cheech Marin from his collection of Chicanx art, which has long been considered the largest in the world. It has been popular with the local community and tourists, and well-received by critics. The museum said that it had a goal of getting 100,000 visitors in its first year, and that it had surpassed that goal by 30 percent.

The Cheech also had major support from the City of Riverside, which has agreed to give $800,000 annually to the institution for its budget for its first decade of existence. The city council also helped secure $10.7 million from the California State budget that went toward retrofitting the historic building in which the Cheech is located. At the time, Marin told ARTnews of Riverside’s potential, “I think it’ll be the next big art town. It’s set up to do that.”

Riverside Art Museum director Drew Oberjuerge confirmed to the L.A. Times the amount of the donations from Amazon, but said she first learned about Amazon ending its donations from the leaked document.

“Neither payment was designated for an exhibition, and the company has not communicated any questions or concerns about an artwork or requested the return of its donations,” Oberjuerge said in a statement. “We believe in supporting artists and curators who challenge, surprise, delight, annoy and anger. It’s through this dialogue we better understand our shared experience.”

Speaking to ARTnews in 2021, ahead of the center’s opening, the Cheech’s artistic director María Esther Fernández said, “When you think about Chicanx art, it comes from a political movement that was concerned with social justice and issues of equity,” she said. “You can’t have a center that’s focused on this kind of art without thinking locally. It’s important to understand its roots in community.”

 

 

 

Source:https://www.artnews.com/

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