Battle for the Museum

Cultural Institutions in Crisis

May 2024 9781787387751 288pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


Culture and power have been bedfellows since ancient times—in the case of exhibits and collections, now more than ever. Protests force out patrons and curators, and pressure museums to abandon fossil fuel sponsorship. Campaigners demand equality and diversity, condemn exploitation of artists and staff, and urge restitution of imperially tainted objects.

Journalist Rachel Spence has watched visual arts become a flashpoint for today’s social divisions. She interviews artists, activists, directors and donors, revealing elitism and injustice. Business and finance launder their reputations through patronage, while governments exert authority by weaponising or attacking the arts—and gallery-goers and workers mobilise to demand better. How did we get here, and what awaits these institutions?

From China and Russia to Helsinki and Brooklyn, from the British Museum to the Louvre and Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, Battle for the Museum uncovers a dark nexus of capital, art and power—and radical resistance movements fighting fiercely for exhibition spaces that serve today’s public.


‘This is a brave book, fluently written, at times almost in a torrent… . It will make compelling reading for anyone interested in contemporary art and where it’s heading. I’ve rarely read a book where the thinking is so transparent.’ — Literary Review

‘Uncovers the unsettling truth behind art-washing and misdeeds.’ — Geographical Magazine

Searing and unflinching, this is a brutally and brilliantly honest analysis, revealing a topsy-turvy world of hypocrisy and ideals, complacency and protest, cruelty and beauty. Museums—and your place in them—will never look the same to you again.’ — Chip Colwell, former curator, and author of Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits and Stuff: Humanity’s Epic Journey from Naked Ape to Nonstop Shopper

‘A thought-provoking book, raising many questions about museums and their institutional values, art and its representation.’ — Sarah Schulman, activist, historian and author of The Gentrification of the Mind


Rachel Spence is an arts writer and poet. Her reviews, features and reporting, chiefly for the Financial Times, often cover freedom of expression, and the politics behind international cultural institutions or programmes. Her poetry collections include Bird of Sorrow; Call and Response; and Venice Unclocked, a journey through Venice.

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