Artists Criticize Proposed Strike for Inauguration Day

The divisive event has art world players debating how to effectively protest Trump.

Protesters demonstrate against Trump on November 12, 2016 in New York. Photo courtesy Yana Paskova/Getty Images.

The proposed art world protest against the incoming Trump administration, with a call to action signed by more than 80 artists and art critics—including Allora and Calzadilla, Hans Haacke, Joan Jonas, Trevor Paglen, Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, and artnet News’s Ben Davis—has sparked debate on social media.

The protest calls for “an act of non-compliance—or “art strike”—on Inauguration Day, but inaction as a method of protest is proving divisive.

The call to action reads: “[This call] is made in solidarity with the nation-wide demand that on January 20 and beyond, business should not proceed as usual in any realm. We consider Art Strike to be one tactic among others to combat the normalization of Trumpism—a toxic mix of white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, militarism, and oligarchic rule. Like any tactic, it is not an end in itself, but rather an intervention that will ramify into the future.”

On the Facebook event page, opinions are enthusiastic, yet divided. On December 15, Matthew Deleget, director of Minus Space gallery in Brooklyn, New York, wrote: “Definitely count me in! MINUS SPACE will be closed on Inauguration Day.”

But others, like Mary Jo Karimnia, an artist from Memphis, Tennessee, aren’t exactly sure how a refusing to work for the day can prove anything—especially when, for some artists, work can be a form of protest in itself.

Karimnia posted on the same day as Deleget: “This is interesting but tell me why I shouldn’t just hole up in my studio and make artwork from dawn til dusk in defiance … What exactly do you mean by “hit the streets?” How do you think a cultural shut down is going to have an effect on this administration?”

On Sunday, January 8, artist Daniel Keller posted an even harsher critique: “This is so pointless and anyone who doesn’t realize this is completely oblivious to the current political climate and of art’s utter irrelevancy within American culture.”

Yet, some still defend the protest as better than nothing. Hrag Vartanian, critic, curator, and Hyperallergic editor-in-chief (and author of this article on the topic) wrote around the same time as Keller: “The funny thing about political actions is that there are always people who will tell you you can’t do something or it’s a waste of time. Never listen to them. Do what you need to protest, object, shut down, etc. that day.”

Social media activism can hardly leave the echo chamber of like-minded social circles, so for those in the art world who are planning to shut down on inauguration day, it would be well-advised to use that downtime to organize and plan a form of action more direct and effective than simply clicking “attend.”

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