A leading activist museum director explains why museums are at the center of a political storm
In an age of protest, cultural institutions have come under fire. Protestors have mobilized against sources of museum funding, as happened at the Metropolitan Museum, and against board appointments, forcing tear gas manufacturer Warren Kanders to resign at the Whitney. That is to say nothing of demonstrations against exhibitions and artworks. Protests have roiled institutions across the world, from the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim to the Akron Art Museum. A popular expectation has grown that galleries and museums should work for social change.
As Director of the Queens Museum, Laura Raicovich helped turn that New York muni- cipal institution into a public commons for art and activism, organizing high-powered exhibitions that doubled as political protests. Then in January 2018, she resigned, after a dispute with the Queens Museum board and city officials. This public controversy followed the museum’s responses to Donald Trump’s election, including her objections to the Israeli government using the museum for an event featuring Vice President Mike Pence.
In this lucid and accessible book, Raicovich examines some of the key museum flashpoints and provides historical context for the current controversies. She shows how art museums arose as colonial institutions bearing an ideology of neutrality that masks their role in upholding conservative, capitalist values. And she suggests ways museums can be reinvented to serve better, public ends.
About the Author
Laura Raicovich was President and Executive Director of the Queens Museum, and most recently served as Interim Director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art. Prior to that she worked at Creative Time and the Dia Art Foundation. She is a recipient of both the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowship and the inaugural Emily H. Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators at Hyperallergic. She coedited Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production and is the author of At the Lightning Field and A Diary of Mysterious Difficulties.
“Culture Strike is a must-read account of how museums have positioned themselves as progressive while working hard to maintain the status quo. Written by someone who knows the ropes and drawing on interviews and conversations from all corners of the art world, it is a road map of how we’ve gotten where we are, a blueprint for change, and a love letter to museums for their potential to change the world if only we would think differently about them.”
—Aruna D’souza, author of Whitewalling
“In this brave and bracing book, Laura Raicovich critiques our cultural institutions with compassion, curiosity, and conviction. Through insightful case studies and compelling history lessons, Culture Strike examines the many ways museums are implicated in capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy, recognizing the profound power imbalances and biases that plague the sector without losing sight of the radical democratic possibility that also exists therein. By shredding the myth of neutrality and universalism that prop up an unjust status quo, Raicovich challenges us to tap into our creativity to imagine and finally build a truly public, egalitarian, and inclusive cultural sphere we deserve.”
—Astra Taylor, author of Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It when It’s Gone
“Laura Raicovich’s incisive critiques and exposures are not just about taking sides or taking down. Her articulations are enveloped by an impassioned understanding that to survive meaningfully you need the heart to evolve and the soul intact.”
—Mel Chin, artist and MacArthur Fellow
—Travis Diehl, art-agenda
“Raicovich doesn’t just provide an analysis of everything that’s gone wrong—she also details a refreshing look at a few cases where museums have stepped up and made changes.”
—Shanti Escalante-De Mattei, ARTnews
“Raicovich has thought deeply about how cultural institutions can better reflect and answer to their communities.”
—Helen Holmes, Observer
“[Culture Strike] brilliantly problematizes the pervasive old myth of ‘neutrality.’”
—Dessane Lopez Cassell, Hyperallergic
“A must-read … Culture Strike contains layers of honest observation from museum professionals, loving critique, historical context, and case studies that illuminate the best and worst in museum culture to offer a clear path forward.”
—Cara Ober, BmoreArt
“Maps out thoughtful considerations of pressing subjects that apply everywhere. Among them are the private power of philanthropy, the practical and spiritual benefits of staff diversity, unionizing cultural institutions, and the contours of museums’ social responsibility.”
—Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times
“Offers key contextual and historical lenses through which to consider protests that have occurred at institutions worldwide, addressing topics from museum funding to workers’ rights.”