I can’t get over the statement released this week by leaders of some of the world’s biggest museums — British Museum, Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, you name it — opposing the recent wave of climate protests targeting major works of art. In their open letter, they said they were “deeply shaken” by the recent protests, warning that the activists “severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage.” I’ll explain why I think this embarrassing statement is a resounding failure of leadership.
But first of all, “deeply shaken”? Do you need a hug, museum directors? What’s more “fragile” — the artwork or you? And where’s that sensitivity when you accept donations from opioid manufacturers, fossil fuel lords, war profiteers, and the like? You know that your boardrooms are the biggest laundromats of ill-begotten money. Furthermore, why aren’t you “deeply shaken” by the systemic racism, sexism, and classism in your institutions? Why don’t your delicate hearts quiver when you hear from your workers that they’re struggling to make ends meet?
It’s worth reminding the signatories that young protesters gluing themselves to or splashing food at glass-protected artworks are not a danger to society. They’re not anti-art saboteurs but rather media-savvy people who are aware of the power of spectacle. If anything, this statement proves that their new tactic is working.
The bigger problem here is that these museum directors have a severely narrow understanding of their positions. In their own words, the museum’s primary responsibility lies in “collecting, researching, sharing and preserving” cultural heritage. No, we need you to do more than that. We need museum directors to become actual cultural leaders who know how to identify and address society’s most pressing problems, and actively engage in solving them. I’m calling on you to stop thinking like caretakers and start acting like changemakers. Start representing your community, not just your board of trustees.
I’ll give some examples of how to achieve that: Lead the conversation on repatriation, instead of just waiting for the authorities to knock on your door; build your programming around examining the colonial provenance of your collections; kick the toxic billionaires out; reinvent the use of your endowment; help foster a new generation of cultural workers from overlooked communities; open your doors to protests instead of fearing them. In fact, you should be leading these protests.
Maybe that would turn your institution from target to ally.
Special Edition: 🖌️Artists’ Signatures ✍️
In this special edition, we investigate what artists’ signatures actually mean, and the fascinating results reveal the multifaceted history of this curious phenomenon.
What Is a Signature in the Internet Age?
As a cryptographic unit for record-keeping, an NFT can be seen as analogous to a signature or an autograph.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
The Meaning of Ancient Greek and Roman Artisan Signatures
What did a signature mean in the ancient world, and how much can we trust what they seem to tell us?
Michelangelo’s Signature and the Myth of Genius
Michelangelo served as a stellar example for future artists who sought status and economic independence.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
Uncovering the Photographer Behind Arshile Gorky’s Most Famous Painting
As we pursue photographer Hovhannes Avedaghayan a fascinating picture begins to emerge of him and the world of which he was part.
100 Years of Artist Signatures in a Detroit Club
The beams in Detroit’s Scarab Club act as a guest book of sorts, carrying a wealth of stories and history, including signatures by Diego Rivera, Marcel Duchamp, Margaret Bourke-White, Isamu Noguchi, and others.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
The Myth of Agency Around Artists’ Signatures
In an art world built on shifting sands, artists’ signatures become symbols of agency for some, and relics of the past for others.
The Women Artists Commemorated on an NYC Sidewalk
The signatures of Rosa Bonheur, Mary Cassatt, and six other historical women artists are engraved on a small stretch of sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Met Museum Repatriates 15 Objects to India
The sculptures were all at one point sold by the disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova Placed on Russian “Wanted” List
Tolokonnikova has long been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Before anyone glues themselves to an art work, folks might want to check this exhibition out.
It looks at climate change and our environment from the perspective of 4 living artists. Sometimes you can learn more from museums than you think you already know…And, yes, maybe hug a museum director that does stuff like this.
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