Kirsty Robertson


Dr. Kirsty Robertson, Associate Professor (Contemporary Art and Museum and Curatorial Studies), Director of Museum and Curatorial Studies

Postdoc, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2007

Ph.D., Queen’s University, Visual and Material Culture, 2006
M.A., Queen’s University, 2001
B.A., Honours, Bishop’s University, 1998



Kirsty Robertson is Director of Museum and Curatorial Studies in the Department of Visual Arts. Her pedagogy involves curating large-scale speculative and experimental exhibitions with students, work that she has extended into independent curatorial projects such as Secret Stash (McIntosh Gallery, 2013), Plastic Heart: Surface All the Way Through (with the Synthetic Collective, Art Museum at the University of Toronto, 2021) and From Remote Stars: Buckminster Fuller, London, Speculative Futures (with Sarah E.K. Smith, Museum London, 2022). Her research focuses on museums, visual culture, contemporary art, environment, and activism, clustered in a number of different projects.


Current Projects

Kirsty Robertson has published widely on activism, visual culture, and museums, culminating in her book Tear Gas Epiphanies: Protest, Museums, Culture (MQUP, 2019). Tear Gas Epiphanies traces the as-yet-untold story of political action at museums in Canada from the early twentieth century to the present. The book looks at how museums do or do not archive protest ephemera, examining a range of responses to actions taking place at their thresholds, from active encouragement to belligerent dismissal. Drawing together extensive primary-source research and analysis, Robertson questions widespread perceptions of museums, strongly arguing for a reconsideration of their role in contemporary society that takes into account political conflict and protest as key ingredients in museum life.


Robertson’s work on critical museum studies has expanded into a new project focused on small and micro- collections that work against traditional museum formats. Her SSHRC-funded project Pop Ups, Alternatives, Artist Museums and Micromuseums: Exploring the Edges of Museology asks how those who feel blocked or hindered by establishment museums use the form of the museum against itself to create oppositional or critical spaces. Is it possible that small size can, in fact, enliven rather than neutralize or deaden cultural materials? As a part of this project, Robertson runs The Bookcase Micromuseum and Library out of her office.


Since 2008, Robertson has additionally researched textiles, the textile industry, and fibre-based arts. She has written on textiles and technology, on craftivism, and is currently looking closely at petrotextiles (that is, textiles that are made from oil and that disintegrate into plastic microfibers). As a part of this research, she is a founding member of the Synthetic Collective, a group of artists, scientists and cultural researchers working on plastics pollution in the Great Lakes Region, and is co-lead on a project with Eugenia Kisin (NYU) titled A Museum for Future Fossils.


Selected publications

Kirsty Robertson. Tear-Gas Epiphanies: Protest, Museums, Culture, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Spring 2019. 

Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton, Kirsty Robertson, eds. Negotiations in a Vacant Lot: Studying the Visual in Canada, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014. 312 pages.

Laura Murray, Tina Piper, Kirsty Robertson (tri-authors). Putting Intellectual Property in its Place. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. 224 pages.

Kirsty Robertson and Keri Cronin, eds. Imagining Resistance: Visual Culture and Activism in Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011. 294 pages.

Kirsty Robertson with Lisa Vinebaum. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture [special issue: Crafting Community: Textiles, Publics, Performance and Participation]. 14.1 London: Berg Press, Summer 2016.

Kirsty Robertson. “The Disappearance of Arthur Nestor: Parafiction, Cryptozoology, Curation.” Museum and Society 18.2, 2020:

Sara Belontz, Patricia Corcoran, Heather Davis, Kathleen Hill, Kelly Jazvac, Kirsty Robertson, Kelly Wood (the Synthetic Collective). “Embracing an Interdisciplinary Approach to Plastics Pollution Awareness and Action.” Ambio (November), currently online:

Kirsty Robertson with Helen Gregory. “No Small Matter? Micromuseums as Critical Institutions,” RACAR (special issue: Critical Curating) 43.2 (2018).

Lianne McTavish with Susan Ashley, Heather Igloliorte, Kirsty Robertson, and Andrea Terry. “Critical Museum Theory/Museum Studies in Canada: A Dialogue,” Acadiensis 46.2 (2017), pp. 223-41.

Kirsty Robertson and Lisa Vinebaum. “Crafting Community.” Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture 14.1 (2016), pp. 2-13.

Kirsty Robertson. “Oil Futures/Petrotextiles” In Petrocultures. Sheena Wilson and Imre Szeman, eds. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017, pp. 242-63.

Kirsty Robertson. “Textiles.” In Fueling Culture: Politics, History, Energy. Imre Szeman, Jennifer Wenzel and Patricia Yaeger, eds. Fordham University Press, 2016, pp. 353-56.

Kirsty Robertson. “Shopping Cartographies.” In The Vancouver Carts: Photographs by Kelly Wood. James Patten, ed. London: Black Dog Publishers, 2016.

Kirsty Robertson. “Quilts for the Twenty-First Century: Activism in the Expanded Field of Quilting” In Handbook of Textiles, eds. Janis Jefferies, Hazel Clark and Diana Wood Conroy. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2016, pp. 197-210.

 Kirsty Robertson. “Plastiglomerate,” e-flux journal 78 (December 2016): 

Kirsty Robertson. “The History of Contemporary Survival: Tributes and Tributaries at the AGO.” In Topia 37 (Spring 2017).



Graduate Supervision

Robertson supervises in the area(s) of museum and curatorial studies, art and activism, contemporary art, and environmental and social justice.

Lisa Daniels, PhD
Dissertation: Reclaiming the Heart of the Museum: Generating Change Through Action-Based Curatorial Research

Julia Krueger, PhD
Dissertation: Indisciplined Ceramic Outhouses and Blob-like Glass Bunnies: Four Case Studies on Canadian Prairie Ceramics and Glass

Stephanie Anderson, PhD
Dissertation: (End)Zones and (Out)Fields of Production: Contemporary Conditions of Labor and Artistic Critique

Meghan O’Neill, Art History, mrp, “A Staircase of Citizen Participation: Preservation of The Old Towns in Tbilisi, Tallinn, and Edinburgh,” completed August, 2019.

Jessica Sealey, Art History, mrp, “Looters or Liberators? The Subjugation of the Egyptian Body Through Western Intervention, Looting, and Collecting,” completed August, 2018.

Kelsey Perreault, Art History, thesis, “Remembrance as Presence: Promoting Learning from Difficult Knowledge at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” completed August, 2017.

Ellen Groh, Art History, Art History, mrp, “Exhibiting Prostitution: An Analysis of Sex Work and Today’s Museums,” completed May, 2017.

Genevieve Flavelle, Art History, mrp, “The Night Before Utopia: Queer Feminist Art Praxis at the Feminist Art Gallery,” completed July, 2016.

Keely McCavitt, Art History, mrp, “3D Technologies and the Future of Repatriation in Canada,” completed July, 2016.

Carling Spinney, Art History, mrp, “No Vacancy: Alternative Spaces for Exhibition,” completed July, 2016.

Claude Bock, Art History, mrp, “The Effects of Truth and Reconciliation on Contemporary Indigenous Art within Canada,” completed April, 2016.

Recent Courses


2019                 MCS4605E       Museum and Curatorial Practicum: Together We Average as Zero
2019                 ARTH2220E     A Museum for Future Fossils
2019                 VAH2292G      Introduction to Gallery, Museum, and Curatorial Studies
2018                 VAH3396F      Greatest Shows on Earth: Exhibitions that have Changed Art History
2017-18            VAH4485E      Museum and Curatorial Practicum: 95% Invisible: The Art of Storage            
2017                 VAH3383A      Introduction to Exhibition Design and Museum Management
2018                 VAH1045B      Collecting and Culture
2016-17            VAH4485E      Museum and Curatorial Practicum: Protectorate 1: A Darker Side of the Moon
2016                 VAH2292F       Introduction to Museum and Curatorial Studies
2015-16            VAH4485E     Museum and Curatorial Practicum: Cabinet of Shadows: The Reliquary For Lost Animals


2021                 VAH9571B      Museum/Decay
2019                 VAH95/685G   A Museum for Future Fossils                                
2017                 VAH95/685G   Radical Museum II
2016                 VAH9585G      Radical Museum
2012                 VAH9556F       Museums, Marginality and the Mainstream