An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017
Aug 18, 2017–

Black and white photograph of protesters with black rectangles covering their signs.

Annette Lemieux (b. 1957), Black Mass, 1991. Latex, acrylic, and oil on canvas, 95 13/16 × 105 × 1 13/16 in. (243.4 × 266.7 × 4.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; promised gift of Emily Fisher Landau P.2010.173. © Annette Lemieux

Through the lens of the Whitney’s collection, An Incomplete History of Protest looks at how artists from the 1940s to the present have confronted the political and social issues of their day. Whether making art as a form of activism, criticism, instruction, or inspiration, the featured artists see their work as essential to challenging established thought and creating a more equitable culture. Many have sought immediate change, such as ending the war in Vietnam or combating the AIDS crisis. Others have engaged with protest more indirectly, with the long term in mind, hoping to create new ways of imagining society and citizenship.

Since its founding in the early twentieth century, the Whitney has served as a forum for the most urgent art and ideas of the day, at times attracting protest itself. An Incomplete History of Protest, however, is by name and necessity a limited account. No exhibition can approximate the activism now happening in the streets and online, and no collection can account fully for the methodological, stylistic, and political diversity of artistic address. Instead, the exhibition offers a sequence of historical case studies focused on particular moments and themes—from questions of representation to the fight for civil rights—that remain relevant today. At the root of the exhibition is the belief that artists play a profound role in transforming their time and shaping the future.

An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017 is organized by David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection; Jennie Goldstein, assistant curator; and Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator; with David Kiehl, curator emeritus; and Margaret Kross, curatorial assistant.

Major support for An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940‒2017 is provided by The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President.

Significant support is provided by the Ford Foundation.

Explore the Exhibition


John Ahearn
Emma Amos
Rudolf Baranik
Andrea Bowers
Mark Bradford
AA Bronson
Paul Burlin
Andrew Castrucci
Paul Chan and Badlands Unlimited
Mel Chin
Larry Clark
Sue Coe
William N. Copley
Allan d'Arcangelo
Bruce Davidson
Richard Deagle
Jane Dickson
Louis H. Draper
Melvin Edwards
Chris "Daze" Ellis
Larry Fink
Vincent Gagliostro
Ja'Tovia Gary
Theaster Gates
General Idea
John Giorno
Leon Golub
Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Avram Finkelstein
Gran Fury
Nancy Grossman
Group Material
Guerrilla Girls
Keith Haring
Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds
Charles B. Hinman
Jenny Holzer
Rashid Johnson
Mary Kelly
Edward Kienholz
Barbara Kruger
Suzanne Lacy
Annette Lemieux
Glenn Ligon
Daniel Joseph Martinez
John "Crash" Matos
Josephine Meckseper
Julie Mehretu
Toyo Miyatake
Donald Moffett
Peter Moore
Frank Moore
Senga Nengudi
Louise Nevelson
Gordon Parks
Irving Petlin
Howardena Pindell
Carl Pope
Ad Reinhardt
Faith Ringgold
Tim Rollins and K.O.S.
Kay Rosen
Martha Rosler
Dread Scott
Gary Simmons
Jaune Quick-to-See Smith
Jack Sonenberg
Nancy Spero
Tom Starace
May Stevens
Carol Summers
Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Joseph Wolin
Martin Wong
Adja Yunkers

Free Daily Tours

Nov 17

Tours for An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017

11 am

View all tours


Hear From Artists

“I make revolutionary art to propel history forward. I’m a visual artist.”
—Dread Scott

Hear directly from artists including Dread Scott, Senga Nengudi, and Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds as they discuss their work in An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017. Listen to additional commentary from curators on selected highlights from the exhibition.

In the News

"An Incomplete History of Protest examines how artists have become activists in order to help create a better future.” 
The Guardian

“Get To Know An Incomplete History Of Protest at the Whitney”