Standard bearers

The Editors

From Heather Christle’s “Home2Suites,” Georgia Review (Spring 2021).

May 4, 2021

Last Friday, security guards prevented a group of protestors from entering New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The action was organized as part of the artist-led “Strike MoMA” campaign, which calls for a radical reappraisal of the institution’s funding model so that “something else can emerge, something under the control of workers, communities, and artists rather than billionaires.”1 Two days later, on the other side of the Atlantic, supporters of Manchester United took their protest past security and into the soccer club’s stadium, forcing that afternoon’s match to be postponed. Banners demanded the creation of an ownership model that would give fans a majority stake, returning an organization founded by railway workers to the community that supported its growth into a multibillion dollar company.

There are issues here that shouldn’t be elided—there is always risk in transferring across contexts, even those as closely aligned as the US and UK—but the similarities were striking, especially if you subscribe to the idea that art is part of a wider cultural continuum. Both protests were organized by members of the audiences that these institutions exist, at least nominally, to serve; both drew attention to the disparities between those in power and their constituencies. Those disparities translate into divergent understandings of the purpose of the organization and, relatedly, how value is assigned to its “product.” Illustrating this point is that the demonstration in Manchester was catalyzed by the owners’ attempt to found an international “super league” that would have sacrificed the club’s historical links while ushering in a technically higher standard of competition (more money, better players). It transpires, to the apparent surprise of the owners, that this is not the product the supporters wanted.

The protests made clear that the public values the meaning conferred on a cultural activity by its sentimental intersections with community, history, and politics as well as its technical excellence. “Strike MoMA” likewise challenges the idea that the role of museums is only to hoover up the most acclaimed products of a dominant culture and place them in relation for the contemplation of a disinterested audience. Instead, it proposes that institutions must give greater weight to how their activities relate to the lived experiences of the communities they serve and who helped to build them. Which is to say that art is situated in the world.

This world is globalized, networked, and culturally heterogenous, so calling for art that responds to its contexts isn’t to advocate parochialism but to support the complication of its narratives and the expansion of its canons. Institutions around the world are already engaged in this process, recognising that the meaning of art is deepened by a dynamic relationship with its setting.2 The practice of criticism reflects this: it is predicated on a personal encounter with works at a certain time and in a particular space. Even a cursory scan of the past year’s reviews will attest to the way art traffics with the changing world around it, and how illuminating this exchange can be. Contemporary art, too, is not a single forum but a multitude of overlapping spheres of influence and interest. This is reflected in our coverage, which this month spans a reappraisal of the relationship between abstraction and political engagement; a report on histories of queer performance in South Africa; a roundup of the return of Frieze New York; and reviews of exhibitions on subjects ranging from the story of the bomb to the representation of ecocide. We hope there’s something for you.


“Strike MoMA“‘s Framework and Terms of Struggle are available online:


For one example, read James Voorhies’ report on Tensta konsthall, which we published in 2019:

Editorial, Protests & Demonstrations
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