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What About The “Art Strike”? It’s Not So Simple

A group of artists, critics and gallerists have called for an art strike on Jan. 20. Inauguration Day. Names like Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Julie Mehretu, Richard Serra, Joan Jonas and Lucy Lippard have asked for a shutdown of museums, galleries, studios, etc. (see picture) They have every right to do so, and I have no quibbles if they want to. These are extraordinary times.

But I do quibble with the idea that museums should join in–at least public museums. It’s going to be counter-productive in the long run. Museums will need public support in the four years–the broader the better.

Besides, it sends the wrong message. If the arts are to be inclusive, museums have to welcome people of all ideologies. Otherwise, they are just as bad as the other side.

Jonathan Jones, in The Guardian, makes other points, including:

…the notion that museums will help anything by closing their doors, or students will scare middle America into its senses by cutting art classes, tastes not of real hard-fought politics but shallow radical posturing by some very well-heeled and comfortable members of a cultural elite. These eminent artists come across as people who are used to being listened to without having to try. Worse, there is something nostalgic about the petition, as of this were the 1960s all over again.

Rather than close their doors, they should open them wide. Take the high road.

In fact, I admire what Adam Weinberg, the director of the Whitney Museum, told the press last night at a press reception (also a nice touch)–the Whitney will remain open on Jan. 20 and it will be free.

Perhaps others, if they are in a fit fiscal position, might follow his lead.



  1. Stew Mosberg says

    One can only wish it were this “simple.” Divisiveness in general leads to posturing and complaint on both sides of the fence and we all wind up preaching to the choir. It is a very sad state of affairs and I am firmly on the side of the artists discontent,. However your point is well taken, funding, whether by government agency or private (very rich) donors is at the root of what museums must consider . Protest art is what artists can do, make visual statements, raise the level of awareness. Jones’ article in the Guardian mentions the “60s all over again”. Well, in a very real way, it is. I have not seen this kind of vitriolic separation and opposition since that time; it changed America for ever. My fear is that a white house enemies list is well on its way to being generated. Artists have always been on dictator and tyrant lists as enemies of the state.

  2. Barbara Chalsma says

    Perhaps all the artists mentioned–and others–could spend the day on street corners and in parks giving away their art or other handouts–signed with a caption saying “Toward an Anti-Fascist Cultural Front, January 20, 2017”. In this way they would memorialize the day and let future generations know that they took a stand.

  3. Chris Crosman says

    Adam Weinberg’s response is the correct one (for museums, anyway). The free expression of ideas is what drives much if not all the best art, in whatever form. Maybe museums like the Heckscher Museum could showcase works like their iconic George Grosz painting, “Eclipse of the Sun,” 1923, a powerful reminder of what’s at stake, now and in the not so distant past?

  4. richard kooyman says

    I think you are missing the whole point of group action. No one artist can expect their action to have an effect. No one museum can expect their actions to have big effect. But if most artist and most art administrators and most museums were to join in with other citizens, business, institutions to sit in and shut down the system the effect would be profound.
    Complaining that those willing to stand up to fascism aren’t doing enough or aren’t doing it the way you think they should be doing it when you yourself aren’t doing anything is a weak excuse.

    • I’m puzzled by your comment. I did not “complain” on the points you cite. In fact, I didn’t complain at all. I simply disagree with the idea that museums, which I believe should foster the exchange of ideas through the art they showcase, should close in protest of the new administration. The election has been certified and its results stand, whether or not you or I like them. I find your last line totally incomprehensible: how would you know what I am doing?

      • richard kooyman says

        Why shouldn’t a museum of art institution protest? I don’t like the fact that a psychopathic narcissist has become the president when the majority of voters in America didn’t want him. I’m hoping you are just as upset and I hope our Museums and art institutions are just as upset and willing to stand with everyone to do everything in their power to stand against this insanity.

        • Public museums are not and should not be partisan. They should be open and welcoming to all Americans. That is my opinion and the fact that you may disagree is a privilege we share by living here.

  5. Art strike? It’s a product of outrage, negative emotion, and a lack of critical thinking. The televised show for Bozo the Hyperbole Clown will adsorb the attention of a huge percentage of the Nation. With Museums & Galleries closed (art strike) where can ordinary people go if they want to escape the drudgery of a Springsteen cover band?

    Nope, they should all be open, free admission if possible. That’s a ‘democratic’ way of celebrating the great American tradition of orderly transition of executive power.

    Great art in America is already isolated by lack of public funding, why isolate it further by opening it to vindictiveness from Bozo the Artless Clown? Artists have always been ahead of social and political agendas. More access to Art, not less!

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