Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Thesis - Restricted Access (SIA Only)

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Contemporary Art

First Advisor

Aliza Shvarts

Second Advisor

Judith Prowda

Abstract

Non-profit art museums are arbiters of cultural value and simultaneously supporters of artistic freedom. During 2020, a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement amplified anti- neutrality activist groups, demanding museums address the embedded violence within their institutional practices. While some physical protests occurred, due to the COVID-19 pandemic digital activism thrived through Instagram campaigns. A portion of research for thesis involved surveying over fifty Instagram accounts dedicated to hold the art world discourse in some regard. Additionally, this thesis’ methodology included remaining conversant on the activity regarding three museums: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and the Guggenheim. Each of which is thoroughly examined in respective case studies, including analysis of each museum’s response to this surge in anti-neutrality activism, how it was related to previous iterations of similar activism, and how it was misconstrued as cancel culture. While many institutions were called into action during 2020, the scope of this thesis covers the aforementioned three, all of which are non-profit, public-facing institutions, as determined by their 501(c)(3) tax status. The three case studies illustrate differing reactions to this moment of reckoning, grappling with notions of anti-neutrality. This thesis utilizes two of the many ideologies that fall within anti-neutrality to create its theoretical framework: Art for Art’s Sake as defined by Lola Olufemi, and the aesthetic alibi coined by Martin Jay. The effectiveness of the groups that challenged these three museums proved that this not cancel culture as some have misconstrued it, but rather latest iteration of anti-neutral activism, rooted in aesthetic discourse.

Distinction

1

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