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Artistic Activism and Museum Accountability: Staging Antagonism in the Cultural Sphere

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Pittas, Konstantinos  ORCID logo


This article examines the diversity of tactical interventions that transpired at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2019, culminating in the resignation of the vice-chairman of its Board of Trustees. Instead of accepting the myth of museum neutrality, the activist campaign, spearheaded by the action-oriented movement Decolonize This Place, treated the Whitney as a site of ideological struggle, permeated by inner divisions and conflicting interests. Through their organizing efforts, activists prefigured a movement-based form of cultural production, mapped connections between seemingly disparate struggles, and built decolonial solidarities. While the activists’ actions were essential to stage the antagonisms that had been dormant in the institution, a multiplicity of actors needed to step in during the process, creating multiple pressure points and taking sides in the division. To amplify the Whitney staffers’ attempt to hold the museum leadership accountable, they sought to bring political protest into the institution, challenging the very principle of counting who belongs to the community and who is excluded.



Activism, Contemporary art, Cultural institutions, Democratization, Institutional governance, Museum neutrality, Political protest, Prefigurative politics, Social movements, Whitney Museum, Decolonization

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Theory, Culture and Society

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SAGE Publications