Protest Reactions to Contemporary Art Exhibitions: Origins and Symbols of Public Ressentiment

Keywords: contemporary art, protests against art, discourse of offense, ressentiment, Jock Sturges, provocation in art


This article examines the peculiarities of protests against the offensive content of artworks in the context of one of the most significant discoveries of modern society, the public sphere and its historical transformations. Art is one of the most sensitive indicators of the state of values and symbols, which makes it vulnerable, forming a space for various protests. A distinction is made between conflicts around art that have an etiology within the enlightenment paradigm and modern types of conflicts, in which the accusation that art offends the public and social groups dominates. The initiative for protests in modern culture comes from a public that perceives art in contrast to the previous dominant powers. The discourse of offence lies at the centre of art-related conflict, since the content of protest is heavily loaded with symbolic connotations (ethical, religious, political, ethnic, etc.). The authors analyse offense and its genesis in the modern. It is argued that the source of ressentiment is not within art, but outside it, in the public sphere, while the work is perceived as a medium or symbol of this source. In order to provide a systematic description of protests against art, the authors propose the concept of ressentiment as a mental and value attitude (M. Scheler), in which emphasis is placed on the significance of the long-term attitude that results from the repression of affects. Due to the inhibition of the response impulse, the reaction is transferred to another object. This explains the displacement of the negative reaction from the real cause of suffering to objects of a symbolic nature, in this case to the world of art. Based on the phases of development of ressentiment and its structural elements (themes, social environment, actors) identified by Ch. Pak and using discourse analysis of materials from the public sphere (media, social networks), a case study was examined: an exhibition by the photographer Jock Sturges, Absence of Shame (Moscow) in 2016–2017. It is proved that the motivator of the protest was not the exhibition itself, but the content of the blogger’s posts, the discourse around it, and other ways of representing the biography and oeuvre of the photographer in the public sphere. It is shown that ressentiment as an attitude is formed from the outside and seeks material for its establishment in the outside world. For the formation of a conflict, a preliminary formulation of the discourse of offence is necessary: further dissemination by public groups can consolidate affects and turn them into actions. Provocative art, which violates the boundaries of aesthetic conventions of the art field, risks becoming an object of substituted protest when entering the public sphere.

Author Biographies

Carolina-Joanna Gomes

PhD (Philosophy), Assistant Lecturer, Ural State Medical University.

3, Repin Str., 620028, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-0706-6606

Tatyana Kruglova

Dr. Hab. (Philosophy), Professor, Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B. N. Yeltsin.

19, Mira Str., 620002, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-4014-2877


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How to Cite
Gomes, C.-J., & Kruglova, T. (2021). Protest Reactions to Contemporary Art Exhibitions: Origins and Symbols of Public Ressentiment. Quaestio Rossica, 9(2), 451–470.
Problema voluminis