Pressure on the Whitney began last November, when more than 100 staff members signed a letter demanding that the museum respond to a report on the website Hyperallergic that linked Mr. Kanders to the tear gas fired by border protection agents into a crowd that included children. Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s director, responded in a letter: “The Whitney is first and foremost a museum. It cannot right all the ills of an unjust world, nor is that its role. Yet, I contend that the Whitney has a critical and urgent part to play in making sure that unheard and unwanted voices are recognized.”
In December, one of the artists in the Biennial, Michael Rakowitz, pulled out of the exhibition to protest Mr. Kanders. Four months later, a group of critics, scholars and artists called for Mr. Kanders’s removal. Periodic demonstrations at the museum reached a climax at the official opening of the Biennial in May, as a giant tear gas sculpture was parked near the entrance and protesters marched to Mr. Kanders’s Greenwich Village townhouse.
Last week, four artists — including the MacArthur “genius grant” winner Nicole Eisenman — in a letter published by Artforum asked the Whitney to remove their work from the Biennial, which runs through Sept. 22; four more followed suit. Their work has not yet been removed, and more than 60 artists remain in the show, but the withdrawals created a tipping point for tensions already overshadowing the Whitney’s signature event.
Mr. Kanders, who has donated generously to various charities besides the Whitney, and to politicians from both major parties, had remained unmoved. Responding to the museum staff’s letter, he wrote in December, “I think it is clear that I am not the problem the authors of the letter seek to solve.” Safariland’s slogan is “Together, We Save Lives,” and Mr. Kanders has said repeatedly that there were many examples of police officers who were saved by his company’s products.
The Whitney had stood by its vice chairman since the fall — Mr. Kanders was unanimously reappointed vice chair just last month — but the situation began to flummox other trustees, according to people involved with board discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity so they could describe private conversations. Some felt Mr. Kanders should quit for the good of the museum; others worried that his doing so would embolden protesters to demand the resignation of other board members, including some who have also had business interests in industries that have been targeted by activists, like oil and gas companies and defense contractors.
The group Decolonize This Place, which led protests against Mr. Kanders, said in a statement on Thursday: “We welcome this step by the museum leadership as an act of good faith, responsive to the staff, community groups, activists, organizers, artists, and thinkers who have demanded the removal of Kanders.”