How the Dana Schutz Controversy and Other Recent Protests Have Changed Museums Forever

ArtNet News, Julia Halperin, March 6, 2018

"Last March, the artist Parker Bright stood in front of Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket at the Whitney Biennial wearing a t-shirt with the words “Black Death Spectacle” scrawled in Sharpie across the back. Photos of his protest went viral on social media, and it set off a chain of events that put the Whitney at the center of a scorched-earth debate over cultural appropriation, the definition of censorship, and the very role of the contemporary art institution in the Trump era. Now—almost one year later—some say museums will never be the same. 

The Whitney is one of a number of institutions, including the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, that have found themselves in the crossfire for presenting art that some have deemed insensitive, exploitative, or even traumatizing. 

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These bitter conversations about the need for change have been echoing across the culture field. Their contentions were, for instance, front and center at the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday night, while New York Magazine recently dubbed 2017 “The Great Awokening” in pop culture. And while museums have long faced criticism of various kinds, many of the field’s top cultural leaders say that a potent cocktail of factors—from the fraught political situation in the US to the magnifying powers of social media—have caused these recent protests to erupt with unprecedented force, leading to a deeper rethinking. 

“We’re in a time when these issues are real, these controversies are part of public space and public discourse, and museums are going to become places where these issues get played out,” Glenn Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, told artnet News."

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