Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy the Museums...Or, Simply Don't (and another type of Protest/Party Tonight!)

As noted here before (and if you follow my facebook posts you'll know), I'm watching and, in spirit, all for the Occupy Wall Street protests because I feel the issues being raised need to be discussed. I truly wish the banks would get involved, to help balance out the conversation, but apparently they're too busy raking in record profits.

That said, I find the Occupy the Museums notion a bit too misguided (and more than a bit ironic) to let it go without comment. In a nutshell the message of this effort is:
Museums, open your mind and your heart! Art is for everyone! The people are at your door!
Let's begin with the notion that despite $20 and $25 dollar entry fees, the people seem more than happy to keep passing through the doors of New York's museums :
  • Met Hits 40-Year Attendance Record
  • MoMA Attendance Hits Record High
  • Guggenheim Museum Sees Record Attendance
And they offer alternatives for people who can't afford those fees. So there's apparently NOT a serious "access for the people" issue here.

More specifically, though, the effort's rallying cry is:
For the last few decades, voices of dissent have been silenced by a fearful survivalist atmosphere and the hush hush of BIG money. To really critique institutions, to raise one’s voice about the disgusting excessive parties and spectacularly out of touch auctions of the art world while the rest of the country suffers and tightens its belt was widely considered to be bitter, angry, uncool.
Er...uh...the critique of institutions is alive (*cough* #class) and well (*cough* #rank) by artists like William Powhida (whose new show opens Saturday) and Jennifer Dalton (whose current show ends this Saturday [**see announcment below about event tonight]) and many, many others. I might add that BIG money seems to get and (I can report) does indeed buy such art as well. So there really is no hushing going on here.

So if it's not that "the people" are being denied access to the museums, and it's not that artists are afraid to critique the institutions, what is it really that this protest can accomplish? Their stated goals continue:
The members of museum boards mount shows by living or dead artists whom they collect like bundles of packaged debt. Shows mounted by museums are meant to inflate these markets. They are playing with the fire of the art historical cannon while seeing only dancing dollar signs. The wide acceptance of cultural authority of leading museums have made these beloved institutions into corrupt ratings agencies or investment banking houses- stamping their authority and approval on flimsy corporate art and fraudulent deals.
This strikes me as a gross oversimplification of what motivates curators and museum boards to mount shows. Although there is a popular sense that inflating certain markets does occur to certain decision makers at times, most museum curator I know are indeed passionate about the artists they work with, and the persuasion going on is, generally speaking, from them to the board members, not the other way around. Furthermore, the correlation between museum shows inflating the value of individual collections has never been shown. That's a red herring that does a disservice to board members who could spend their money on far less altruistic things than supporting art and museums.

But I think this text jumps the shark with claims of "stamping their authority and approval on flimsy corporate art and fraudulent deals." What is or isn't "flimsy" is a matter of opinion, and the history of art is nothing if not a shifting of opinions. As for "fradulent" deals, I think I'd consult a good libel attorney before throwing that accusation around so casually and indirectly.
Ultimately, though, I find this an opportunistic and somewhat ahistorical argument. Take this line:
For the past decade and more, artists and art lovers have been the victims of the intense commercialization and co-optation or art.
That's only true if by "past decade" you mean "past few centuries." And it's only wholly true if you acknowledge that the victimizers (i.e., those responsible for the "intense commercialization") include many, many artists as well.

Mind you, I think the protest should move forward and I'll be very curious to see how the museums respond. I suspect they'll accomodate the protesters as best they can.

I just don't think the motivation as outlined in the official text is even remotely accurate and probably won't be very productive. Moreover, I think a better way to get the museums to change (if that's your goal) is to encourage people NOT to occupy them...but that's just me.

**Should you not want to attend the protest, but still wish to be involved in a critique of "the institutions," Jennifer Dalton, A Feminist Tea Party, and Feminist Killjoy Quarterly are having a party in the gallery tonight:
Please join us for an evening of lady* parlour games, co-hosted by A Feminist Tea Party** and Feminist Killjoy Quarterly, in conjunction with Jennifer Dalton's show "Cool Guys Like You" at Winkleman Gallery.

We will play games with funny names while also drinking cocktails with funny names while also enwisening*** ourselves about women's history.

When: TONIGHT Thursday, Oct 20th, 6-9pm
Winkleman Gallery 621 W. 27th St., NYC

More info at and

*No, you don't have to be a lady to come! **A Feminist Tea Party will be hosting in fabulous '60s style, so you can dress in 1960s costume if you like.
***Yes, we know 'enwisening' is not a real word (yet).
Cross posted on Art World Salon.

Labels: Art and politics, gallery artists exhibitions


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say I was very impressed that the London Museums were free except for special shows and then it was still less than $10. The Tate Modern, the British Museum, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery were all free, with just a box for 'suggested donations'.

----ondine nyc

10/20/2011 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger findingfabulous said...

I imagine it is more comfortable to occupy a museum than a street especially with winter around the corner.

10/20/2011 11:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ooooo. . . I like "enwisening"

10/20/2011 05:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sotheby's Party Crasher in solidarity with the Workers!!

At Sotheby's Gala Event on 10/12/11

10/20/2011 09:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Hyperallergic has a good post on this, somewhat in agreement with yours: link

A better start is to have all the unrepresented artists Occupy the Galleries. There have never been as many and as well-networked artists as there are today, many that went through the art school system to end up with shit jobs and bleak futures.

10/21/2011 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

A better start is to have all the unrepresented artists Occupy the Galleries.

Isn't that what #class was? ;-)

10/21/2011 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

IMO #class was generous and somewhat risky on your part, and it gave little windows of potential to myself and some others who followed the trail closely enough to seize the opportunity.
#class did have a particular stance which put a direction to all the events, I preferred the open ended possibility of the "Bring Your Own Art" event. If artists outside the the gallery/media/system put on a BYOA it is unlikely to get the same media/gallerist/Saltz attention and I thank Elizabeth Dee, Cecilia Alemani, and the X-initiative people for putting it on.
Though I think your occasional efforts are honorable, real change probably still needs to come from outside the system and there might be a critical mass building.

10/21/2011 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Fair enough...just remember to consider the needs of others in your revolt.

10/21/2011 11:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Furthermore, the correlation between museum shows inflating the value of individual collections has never been shown.

Has the correlation ever been studied? It seems impossible that there would be no effect.

10/22/2011 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

On Occupation of galleries: Perhaps it is beginning?
That it happened just after a Christopher D'Arcangelo show and before a forthcoming "Identity" exhibition seems fittingly timed.

10/24/2011 01:09:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ugh...Artist's Space??? Really? That's the program you think it makes sense to "protest"?

That's like eating your children to protest scarcity of food...positively Swiftian.

10/24/2011 07:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Fittingly timed because D'Arcangelo was an anarchist/artist, anartist or whatever who once chained himself to the doors of a major museum, and other art activist (artivist?) activities.
The way Artist Space reacted is intriguing, a commercial gallery seems more likely to hire goons riding camels to run them out (OK, I exaggerate a bit there).

10/24/2011 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You exaggerate a lot, actually, Bernard. They attempted to accommodate the protesters for over 24 hours, despite having lives and families to return to. And no one was forced out...they were asked to leave...the whole hired goons line is a despicable lie and you should stop spreading it.

10/24/2011 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Slow down. I'm not suggesting Artist Space did anything like that. I'm saying commercial galleries would handle the situation very differently. Consider the chaotic event near the close of the Gogo Kiefer show for example.
I still have this image of Egyptian goons riding into Tahrir Square on camelback, so threw it in there, but yes it was misplaced and extreme.

10/24/2011 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for clarifying. I think I conflated your comment with one Occupy Artist Space made on their tumblr:

"Several security individuals from the building have entered the space and are now preparing to evict us. We now see the face of the art ideology as its true form: ex-cops in suits. We are here and are calling for all to come and help prevent the eviction of Manhattan’s first indoor occupied building!"

Two security guards (not several) stood by while the protesters reportedly left bit by bit, some of them leaving their sleeping bags behind.

It makes a complete mockery of OWS to employ inflammatory hyperbole in the response to losing free bathrooms and heating after enjoying it for 24 hours.

10/24/2011 10:31:00 AM  

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