Civil disobedience and political agitation: the art museum as a site of protest in the early twentieth century

Suzanne MacLeod


This paper focuses on two examples of political protest which took place in museums in the early decades of the twentieth century: Mary Richardson’s attack on Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus in London’s National Gallery in 1914 and the ‘rushing’ and occupation of the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool by the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee Movement (NUWCM) in 1921. In each of these cases, the museum was selected as a suitable site to make a political point. In both cases, the protestors utilized the space of the museum to further a political cause. Through a description of these two examples, and in addition to locating the public art museum as one amongst a series of potential sites of protest in the spatial networks of the city by the early twentieth century, this paper explores the motivations of the protestors in order to suggest certain perceptions of the Walker Art Gallery and the National Gallery which identified them as potential sites for political action. What becomes clear is that the unemployed workers and the suffragists occupied very specific subject positions in relation to these sites, subject positions which directly influenced their perceptions of art museums and their selection of art museums as sites of protest.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Suzanne MacLeod

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Museum and Society

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