Winner of the 2019 Melva J. Dwyer Award (ARLIS)
Tear Gas Epiphanies: Protest, Culture, Museums (McGill-Queens University Press, 2019) focuses on the tension and friction created at the intersection of protest, culture, and museums. This book analyses museums as key institutions that occupy the uncomfortable space between the arts, various levels of government, corporate culture, and the public, while also acting as targets of, and occasionally providing encouragement for, contentious politics. In Canada, museums have frequently been sites of struggle and negotiation. Writers and art historians in Canada have tended to focus on two altercations: protests against the exhibition Into the Heart of Africa and the Royal Ontario Museum in 1989, and The Spirit Sings at the Glenbow in 1990. While granting those two events the importance they deserve, this book documents a much longer history of intervention into museums, as well as a continuing use of museums to make political points. Once the sheer number of actions is laid out, it becomes obvious that protests at museums are not anomalous, but rather museums are actors in political events, playing important roles that they may or may not want or accept. With this in mind, Tear Gas Epiphanies both traces this as yet untold history, and also examines the performance of political action at a series of museums. The book also looks at how protest actions are archived (or not) by museums, and at how museums have either come to actively encourage or persuasively dismiss actions from taking place at their thresholds.
Building on Robertson’s co-edited volume Imagining Resistance: Visual Culture and Activism in Canada and drawing together extensive primary source research, interviews and analysis, Tear Gas Epiphanies deeply questions the perception of museums in the twenty-first century, and argues strongly that the role of museums in contemporary society needs to be rethought to address conflict as a key ingredient of museum life.
It can be ordered here.
Read the Introduction here.
Table of Contents
Preface: Tear Gas Epiphanies
1. Introduction: Museums, Protest, Cities
a) Art is Political: Carol Condé and Karl Beveridge at the Museum Threshold
2. A Short History of Protest at Canadian Museums
b) Sit-in at the Museum of Anthropology, 1980
3. Brokering Culture: Protest and Art at the G20 in Toronto, 2010
c) “She Walked in and Removed Her Work from the Wall”: Artists Against Reed Paper at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 1976
4. Reactionary Protest: Veterans, the Canadian War Museum, Warrior Nations, and Anti-War Activism
d) Protest versus Controversy: Meat Dress and Voice of Fire
5. “It takes a lot of wrongs to make a museum of rights”: Shoal Lake Nation #40 and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
e) The Shut Down of the Lands Within Me: Expressions by Canadian Artists of Arab Origin, 2001
6. When the Land Comes First: Oil, Museums, and (Missing) Protest
f) Reversing the Flow: Yes Men Tackle the Canadian Government
7. Intellectual Properties: Real Estate, Occupy Vancouver, and the Vancouver Art Gallery
g) Wendy Coburn: Anatomy of a Protest