LD50 the east London art gallery accused of Infiltrating the art world with its fascist agenda
In light of the past year’s global political upheavals, the art world has felt like a rare space for hope, with many looking to art as a mode of resistance in the face of oppression. However, art and the platform it provides can also be used for the dissemination of messages of hate, and the potential for propaganda is the inevitable flip side of the coin. In recent weeks debate has flared up around the subject of a gallery in east London that has been heavily criticized for having an ‘alt-right’ agenda.
Opened in 2015, LD50 has exhibited artists including Jake and Dinos Chapman, but made headlines last week when the anti-fascist group Shut Down LD50 drew attention to the gallery’s reactionary programming following an exhibition of work from the alt-right movement. Furthermore, over the summer LD50 held a ‘neoreactionary’ conference featuring six high-profile far right thinkers including Nick Land, for whom “racism is an aura around all his other pronouncements;” Brett Stevens, a vocal supporter of mass murderer Anders Breivik who believes that “with equality, quality is destroyed,” and Iben Thranholm, “a proponent of racist, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant, homophobic and misogynist politics.”
Shut Down LD50 issued a statement last week in which they highlight the issues with the gallery. “It has come to light that an art gallery and project space in East London is being used to promote fascists, neo-Nazis, misogynists, racists and Islamophobes… Materials produced by the gallery have consistently drawn on fascist traditions ranging from 1930s Nazi aesthetics to contemporary “neo-reactionary” politics. The gallery is using the cover of the contemporary art scene and academia to legitimise the spread of these materials and the establishment of a culture of hatred.”
Gallery owner Lucia Diego has been defensive of her project, claiming that “Our position has always been that the role of art is to provide a vehicle for the free exploration of ideas, even and perhaps especially where these are challenging, controversial or indeed distasteful for some individuals to contemplate,” telling the Hackney Gazette “people don’t think for themselves. The first way to understand it is to engage with it.” Furthermore, the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones argues that we should not call for LD50’s closure, claiming that it would constitute “a pathetic attack on free speech.”
However, the crucial question that remains unaddressed by Jones and Diego is how far we allow the argument of free speech to defend racism and hate. “Hate speech cannot be ‘free speech’ when it advocates violence in the pursuit of authoritarianism and racial supremacy,” wrote Andrew Osborne, a Shutdown LD50 campaigner in a statement.
LD50 remains closed, as no exhibition is currently scheduled. Diego has published a statement on her website calling the action against her gallery “exceptionally aggressive, militant and hyperbolic,” claiming that society has entered a “cultural echo chamber.”
She argues that the gallery tries “to explore contemporary discourse through a series of exhibitions and open discussions, by looking at our programme one can learn how diverse and enriching these have been over the last 2 years.” However many of these events were not open to the public, a revelation which undermines Diego’s claims that the local Dalston community were perfectly happy with the conference. Nigel Copsey, a leading expert on fascism and anti-fascism from Teesside University told Al Jazeera, that there was no academic justification for showcasing far-right works that were detached from their critical context.
An engagement with the current fascist discourse that is undeniably present in the form of an ‘alt-right’, largely online subculture is clearly necessary. However providing a platform within the art world however where key figures from this far-right movement are allowed to sermonize in an uncritical space is worrying.
In broader terms, the surfacing of these tensions is a disquieting reflection of the times, in which fascism is allowed to masquerade as an ‘alt-right’ movement and those calling for its quashing are accused of censorship.