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New York Times: Galleries Scramble Amid Brooklyn’s Gentrification

By Holland Cotter

ART has always been used to sugarcoat economic power moves. In Manhattan, the arrival of galleries can help make real estate hot, and for a while, art gains from the cachet. In Brooklyn, gentrification seems to have the opposite effect: It kills off the art that helped inspire it. Not long ago, a wave of start-up art spaces was building in Dumbo and Williamsburg, only to die down once property values rose, a dynamic that may now be underway in Bushwick. Whatever the case there, in a once rent-friendly borough, galleries and artists alike are scrambling, a reality that tends to promote resourcefulness in exhibition options and to give at least some art being shown and produced a political edge.

BROOKLYN MUSEUM I’ll start with a museum exhibition that has the fluid, improvisatory sprawl of a giant gallery group show. It’s an international survey called “Agitprop!,” in which politics is loud, clear and polyphonic. The show opened in December at a third its present size, then unfolded in three stages, with earlier artists nominating others for inclusion, a process that has brought outstanding figures like Jelili Atiku, from Nigeria; Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, from Puerto Rico; and Inder Salim, from India, into the picture.

Much of the work is ephemeral, preserved as documentation. But there are some large-scale objects and installations, two of local relevance. One is the four-foot-high bust of the National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward J. Snowden, made by Doyle Trankina and illicitly placed by two other artists, Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider, in Fort Greene Park a year ago. The police quickly removed it, but an activist collective called the Illuminator just as quickly replaced it with a photographic projection.

In November, the Illuminator, working with the Crown Heights Tenant Union, made projections specifically to address gentrification and to protest the meeting of the annual borough Real Estate Summit, which rented spaceat the Brooklyn Museum. The museum, after taking heat for accommodating the summit, added to “Agitprop!” a multimedia piece assembled by community advocates and artists, called “A People’s Monument to Anti-Displacement Organizing.” It includes basic information on the city housing crisis; updated news on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans for creating “affordable” units through Brooklyn rezoning; and an artfully rousing video — by Noah Fischer, Betty Yu and Alicia Boyd of the Crown Heights and Flatbush-based Movement to Protect the People — showing resistance in action.


Glasstire: Debtfair Is All About Art and Here's Why


We couldn’t help but respond to Rainey Knudson’s recent op ed about Debtfair because she describes a project that we would not want to participate in. We see a different Debtfair—one in which art and artists play a powerful role in articulating the scope of the debt crisis, and illuminating possible ways out of it.

debtfair laura napier

“Sea of Oil”by Laura Napier, a Houston artist participating in Debtfair

Let’s be clear that Debtfair is an experiment and not a proven solution. It would be absurd for us to make claims on solutions to a crisis as out of control as indebtedness in the U.S. Within this picture, artists occupy a particularly precarious position due to low earnings and high tuition. There are exceptions, but by the numbers, this is fact. Rainey agrees on this point—it’s the search for answers in which we don’t seem to agree. Rainey offers the advice to basically not go into debt. The reality is that many are already in debt—not always for bad reasons, and many cannot avoid it. It’s a structural reality that has to do with the economy we live in. There’s also a complexity of this issue tied into issues of privilege, class, and race. Read through the artist narratives on Debtfair.org and you can see how it plays out in artist’s lives in great detail. One artist describes a typical conundrum:

“I always had a part-time job as a food server at a restaurant, so I have been working extra shifts. But soon I must consider whether I should go back to college and pursue something different and incur new debt, but maybe I’d find a better earning salary and position. No guarantees, except a debt to pay. Or just keep working in the way I can and save, save and save. I would have more time to create art this way and maybe sell a little more of it. It’s a gamble either way.”

debtfair ramirez

“Townhouse” by Fernando Ramirez, a Houston artist participating in Debtfair

We believe that respecting the specific complexities outlined here must be central to an organizing effort. This is where art comes in. Art is unique in that it thrives on complexity. It can express the spaces between, the becomings and the desires for what has yet to come. It’s natural territory is one of experiment.

Key to our experiment is whether artworks can help lay out the true scope of the debt crisis. We aren’t organizing the work aesthetically or by theme—the normal way that curating is done. We are issuing an open call within a specific conceptual framework in order to allow aesthetics that represent all artists and their economic realities—a view that is beyond the normalized gatekeeping conditions. Debtfair is and will remain open to any artist who wishes to share their work and their story.

debtfair James Scheuren

Untitled by James Scheuren, a Houston artist participating in Debtfair

But make no mistake, Debtfair is all about art. The project is inspired by a profound belief in art and the drive to make it. It’s a visual framework to harness the power, complexity, and range of artistic visions in order to open a dialog about the current debt crisis with the most powerful tool that artists possess, and that is the art itself.

Fernando Ramirez is one of the many Houston artists who recently joined Debtfair. His graphic pieces portray fascinating apocalyptic hallucinations that tie back to William Blake and medieval altarpieces. A subdued palette and scratchy cartoony linework pull them into another world. He writes, “I got into debt by funding my education with student loans in order to be the first in my family to complete a college education.” This reality points to the social complexity of the issue that we face. His work represents one node in a collective “bundle” of visions by artists who are managing economic realities not in isolation, but in solidarity.

We hope you will join us.

– Noah Fischer and Kenneth Pietrobono, Debtfair

Glasstire: Debtfair Is All About Art and Here's Why


We couldn’t help but respond to Rainey Knudson’s recent op ed about Debtfair because she describes a project that we would not want to participate in. We see a different Debtfair—one in which art and artists play a powerful role in articulating the scope of the debt crisis, and illuminating possible ways out of it.

debtfair laura napier

“Sea of Oil”by Laura Napier, a Houston artist participating in Debtfair

Let’s be clear that Debtfair is an experiment and not a proven solution. It would be absurd for us to make claims on solutions to a crisis as out of control as indebtedness in the U.S. Within this picture, artists occupy a particularly precarious position due to low earnings and high tuition. There are exceptions, but by the numbers, this is fact. Rainey agrees on this point—it’s the search for answers in which we don’t seem to agree. Rainey offers the advice to basically not go into debt. The reality is that many are already in debt—not always for bad reasons, and many cannot avoid it. It’s a structural reality that has to do with the economy we live in. There’s also a complexity of this issue tied into issues of privilege, class, and race. Read through the artist narratives on Debtfair.org and you can see how it plays out in artist’s lives in great detail. One artist describes a typical conundrum:

“I always had a part-time job as a food server at a restaurant, so I have been working extra shifts. But soon I must consider whether I should go back to college and pursue something different and incur new debt, but maybe I’d find a better earning salary and position. No guarantees, except a debt to pay. Or just keep working in the way I can and save, save and save. I would have more time to create art this way and maybe sell a little more of it. It’s a gamble either way.”

debtfair ramirez

“Townhouse” by Fernando Ramirez, a Houston artist participating in Debtfair

We believe that respecting the specific complexities outlined here must be central to an organizing effort. This is where art comes in. Art is unique in that it thrives on complexity. It can express the spaces between, the becomings and the desires for what has yet to come. It’s natural territory is one of experiment.

Key to our experiment is whether artworks can help lay out the true scope of the debt crisis. We aren’t organizing the work aesthetically or by theme—the normal way that curating is done. We are issuing an open call within a specific conceptual framework in order to allow aesthetics that represent all artists and their economic realities—a view that is beyond the normalized gatekeeping conditions. Debtfair is and will remain open to any artist who wishes to share their work and their story.

debtfair James Scheuren

Untitled by James Scheuren, a Houston artist participating in Debtfair

But make no mistake, Debtfair is all about art. The project is inspired by a profound belief in art and the drive to make it. It’s a visual framework to harness the power, complexity, and range of artistic visions in order to open a dialog about the current debt crisis with the most powerful tool that artists possess, and that is the art itself.

Fernando Ramirez is one of the many Houston artists who recently joined Debtfair. His graphic pieces portray fascinating apocalyptic hallucinations that tie back to William Blake and medieval altarpieces. A subdued palette and scratchy cartoony linework pull them into another world. He writes, “I got into debt by funding my education with student loans in order to be the first in my family to complete a college education.” This reality points to the social complexity of the issue that we face. His work represents one node in a collective “bundle” of visions by artists who are managing economic realities not in isolation, but in solidarity.

We hope you will join us.

– Noah Fischer and Kenneth Pietrobono, Debtfair

WSJ: Activists New and Old Jab Art World

May 7, 2015 9:07 p.m. ET

Last weekend, the art-activist group the Guerrilla Girls engaged in a typically bumptious gesture: projecting images from their latest campaign on the side of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s building in lower Manhattan as a block party to fete the new location wound to a close.

“Dear Art Collector,” read the message, traced in bright light from a mobile projector run by another New York City activist group, The Illuminator Art Collective.

“art is sooo expensive!

even for billionaires

we totally get why

you can’t pay all your employees a living wage”

It has been three decades since the Guerrilla Girls first began plastering New York’s art districts with funny, statistic-filled posters decrying the dearth of female artists on museum and gallery walls. Now the group—along with a new generation of artist-activists—continues to skewer what they see as the art world’s hypocrisy and corruption.

Never mind that the Whitney, which declined to comment on the “Dear Art Collector” projection, now owns more than 90 works by Guerrilla Girls. Or that some of the group’s members—clad in their trademark gorilla suits, to preserve anonymity—mingled with curators at a recent artist reception at the new building. An exhibit of their posters, stickers and billboards opened this month at Abrons Arts Center downtown, and the Guerrilla Girls have embarked on a new campaign.

Targets include everything from the art establishment’s lack of diversity—an issue that by some measures has made only marginal progress since 1985—to labor issues and soaring prices paid by wealthy collectors in today’s turbocharged art market.

“We are the agitated outsiders, the creative complainers, and we like it that way,” a Guerrilla Girl who identified herself as Käthe Kollwitz said in a recent interview. (Members assume the names of dead female artists.)

Recently, the group has teamed up with newer groups of activist artists. They include the Illuminator, as well as Occupy Museums and the Gulf Labor artist coalition, which on Friday shut down the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum with a protest over labor practices at Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, where the museum is planning to build a new branch.

Another Guerrilla Girl, Frida Kahlo, said she was heartened to see a new crop of artists engaging in political art, many of them in collectives that operate outside the traditional art market.

“They are veering away from the idea of the lone individualistic genius,” Ms. Kahlo said. “They don’t want to participate in the art system.”

Take Noah Fischer, a Brooklyn artist and activist involved in the action at the Guggenheim organized by Gulf Labor, a group that has staged multiple protests over what it sees as exploitative conditions for the largely migrant workforce on Saadiyat Island.

Trained as a sculptor, Mr. Fischer, 38 years old, said he quit showing his work in traditional galleries amid the financial downturn, having concluded that the same economic system that led to the crisis was also fueling the art market: “I thought, I want to be challenging that system, not trying my hardest to be supported by those people.”

In 2011 he joined the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park and wrote a manifesto that catalyzed the Occupy Museums movement. Occupy Museums mounted a protest in September at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the new plaza endowed by billionaire David H. Koch and recently helped stage an action outside the Whitney over an adjacent natural-gas pipeline.

On May 1, also known as International Workers Day, Mr. Fischer was among the protesters who dropped leaflets from the Guggenheim’s top tier and unfurled a red banner urging the institution to “Meet Workers’ Demands Now!” Some sat on the floor and refused to leave, while others, including some Guerrilla Girls, marched outside. Ultimately, museum officials shut down the building for the day.

Museum officials said in a statement that they have kept “open lines of communication” with representatives of Gulf Labor and that the Guggenheim has been working with authorities and its partners in Abu Dhabi to “advance progress on conditions for workers who will build the future museum.”

The Illuminator is a frequent partner in museum protests and other political actions. Teaming up with the Guerrilla Girls “was a way to collaborate with our forbearers and our sisters,” said Mark Read, 48, an Illuminator founder who also teaches at New York University.

The NYPD returned the sculpture of Edward Snowden that was placed in Fort Greene Park in the early morning hours of April 6.ENLARGE
The NYPD returned the sculpture of Edward Snowden that was placed in Fort Greene Park in the early morning hours of April 6. PHOTO: GEOFFREY CROFT/NYC PARK ADVOCATE

Last month, the collective projected an image of a bust of Edward Snowden over a column at Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park. It was a tribute to an action by a separate group of artists, who earlier that day had glued a 100-pound bust of the former national-security consultant to the top of a monument there honoring Revolutionary War prisoners. (The bust was swiftly removed.)

On Wednesday the New York Police Department returned the bust. In return, two of the artists each agreed to pay a $50 summons for being in the park after hours, according to their lawyer, Ronald Kuby.

For the Guerrilla Girls, years of activism have conferred a sort of legitimacy that makes some members uneasy. The group’s work has been shown at the prestigious Venice Biennale and major museums including the Tate Modern in London and Paris’s Centre Pompidou.

Women artists and artists of color have more visibility than they did 30 years ago, and some museum curators are making efforts “to cast a wider net,” Ms. Kollwitz said.

But, as one sticker from the group’s current campaign points out, women still accounted for only a fraction of the one-person shows last year at the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Officials at the latter two said the sticker undercounted the number of solo shows by women in 2014 at the Met, and in 1984 at the Whitney.

“I always feel uncomfortable about this museum attention, because we want to be the royal thorn in their side,” said fellow member Ms. Kahlo. “We are here as the art world’s conscience.”

Eflux: On Art Activism by Boris Groys

You can download the full article PDF here:


Excerpt below:

Aestheticization and the U-Turn

Thus, modern and contemporary art allows us to look at the historical period in which we live from the perspective of its end. The figure of Angelus Novus as described by Benjamin relies on the technique of artistic aestheticization as it was practiced by postrevolutionary European art.6 Here we have the classical description of philosophical metanoia, of the reversal of the gaze —Angelus Novus turns his back towards the future and looks back on the past and present. He still moves into the future—but backwards. Philosophy is impossible without this kind of metanoia, without this reversal of the gaze. Accordingly, the central philosophical question was and still is: How is philosophical metanoia possible? How does the philosopher turn his gaze from the future to the past and adopt a reflective, truly philosophical attitude towards the world? In older times, the answer was given by religion: God (or gods) were believed to open to the human spirit the possibility of leaving the physical world—and looking back on it from a metaphysical position. Later, the opportunity for metanoia was offered by Hegelian philosophy: one could look back if one happened to be present at the end of history—at the moment when the further progress of the human Spirit became impossible. In our postmetaphysical age, the answer has been formulated mostly in vitalistic terms: one turns back if one reaches the limits of one’s own strength (Nietzsche), if one’s desire is repressed (Freud), or if one experiences the fear of death or the extreme boredom of existence (Heidegger).

But there is no indication of such a personal, existential turning point in Benjamin’s text—only a reference to modern art, to an image by Klee. Benjamin’s Angelus Novus turns his back to the future simply because he knows how to do it. He knows because he learned this technique from modern art—also from Marinetti. Today, the philosopher does not need any subjective turning point, any real event, any meeting with death or with something or somebody radically other. After the French Revolution, art developed techniques for defunctionalizing the status quo that were aptly described by the Russian Formalists as “reduction,” the “zero device,” and “defamiliarization.” In our time, the philosopher has only to take a look at modern art, and he or she will know what to do. And this is precisely what Benjamin did. Art teaches us how to practice metanoia, a U-turn on the road towards the future, on the road of progress. Not coincidentally, when Malevich gave a copy of one of his own books to poet Daniil Kharms, he inscribed it as follows: “Go and stop progress.”

And philosophy can learn not only horizontal metanoia—the U-turn on the road of progress—but also vertical metanoia: the reversal of upward mobility. In the Christian tradition, this reversal had the name “kenosis.” In this sense, modern and contemporary art practice can be called kenotic.

Indeed, traditionally, we associate art with a movement towards perfection. The artist is supposed to be creative. And to be creative means, of course, to bring into the world not only something new, but also something better—better functioning, better looking, more attractive. All these expectations make sense—but as I have already said, in today’s world, all of them are related to design and not to art. Modern and contemporary art wants to make things not better but worse—and not relatively worse but radically worse: to make dysfunctional things out of functional things, to betray expectations, to reveal the invisible presence of death where we tend to see only life.

This is why modern and contemporary art is not popular. It is not popular precisely because art goes against the normal way things are supposed to go. We are all aware of the fact that our civilization is based on inequality, but we tend to think that this inequality should be corrected by upward mobility—by letting people realize their talents, their gifts. In other words, we are ready to protest against the inequality dictated by the existing systems of power—but at the same time, we are ready to accept the notion of the unequal distribution of natural gifts and talents. However, it is obvious that the belief in natural gifts and creativity is the worst form of social Darwinism, biologism, and, actually, neoliberalism, with its notion of human capital. In his lectures on the “birth of biopolitics,” Michel Foucault stresses that the neoliberal concept of human capital has a utopian dimension—and constitutes, in fact, the utopian horizon of contemporary capitalism.7

As Foucault shows, the human being ceases here to be seen merely as labor power sold on the capitalist market. Instead, the individual becomes an owner of a nonalienated set of qualities, capabilities, and skills that are partially hereditary and innate, and partially produced by education and care—primarily from one’s own parents. In other words, we are speaking here about an original investment made by nature itself. The world “talent” expresses this relationship between nature and investment well enough—talent being a gift from nature and at the same time a certain sum of money. Here the utopian dimension of the neoliberal notion of human capital becomes clear enough. Participation in the economy loses its character of alienated and alienating work. The human being becomes a value in itself. And even more importantly, the notion of human capital, as Foucault shows, erases the opposition between consumer and producer—the opposition that risks tearing apart the human being under the standard conditions of capitalism. Foucault indicates that in terms of human capital, the consumer becomes a producer. The consumer produces his or her own satisfaction. And in this way, the consumer lets his or her human capital grow.8

G.U.L.F. Labor banknote designed by Noah Fischer for the Guggenheim protest of March 29th, 2013.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Joseph Beuys was inspired by the idea of human capital. In his famous Achberger Lectures that were published under the title Art=Capital(Kunst=Kapital), he argues that every economic activity should be understood as creative practice—so that everybody becomes an artist.9 Then the expanded notion of art (erweiterter Kunstbegriff) will coincide with the expanded notion of economy (erweiterter Oekonomiebegriff). Here Beuys tries to overcome the inequality that for him is symbolized by the difference between creative, artistic work and noncreative, alienated work. To say that everybody is an artist means for Beuys to introduce universal equality by means of the mobilization of those aspects and components of everyone’s human capital that remain hidden and inactive under standard market conditions. However, during the discussions that followed the lectures, it became clear that the attempt by Beuys to base social and economic equality on equality between artistic and nonartistic activity does not really function. The reason for this is simple: according to Beuys, a human being is creative because nature gave him/her the initial human capital—precisely the capacity to be creative. So art practice remains dependent on nature—and, thus, on the unequal distribution of natural gifts.

However, many leftist and Socialist theoreticians remained under the spell of the idea of upward mobility—be it individual or collective. This can be illustrated by a famous quote from the end of Leon Trotsky’s book Revolution and Literature:

Social construction and psychophysical self-education will become two aspects of the same process. All the arts—literature, drama, painting, music, and architecture will lend this process beautiful form … Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser, and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movement more rhythmic, his voice more musical … The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.10

It is this artistic, social, and political alpinism—in its bourgeois and Socialist forms—from which modern and contemporary art tries to save us. Modern art is made against the natural gift. It does not develop “human potential” but annuls it. It operates not by expansion but by reduction. Indeed, a genuine political transformation cannot be achieved according to the same logic of talent, effort, and competition on which the current market economy is based, but only by metanoia and kenosis—by a U-turn against the movement of progress, a U-turn against the pressure of upward mobility. Only in this way can we escape the pressure of our own gifts and talents, which enslaves and exhausts us by pushing us to climb one mountain after another. Only if we learn to aestheticize the lack of gifts as well as the presence of gifts, and thus not differentiate between victory and failure, do we escape the theoretical blockage that endangers contemporary art activism.

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of total aestheticization. This fact is often interpreted as a sign that we have reached a state after the end of history, or a state of total exhaustion that makes any further historical action impossible. However, as I have tried to show, the nexus between total aestheticization, the end of history, and the exhaustion of vital energies is illusionary. Using the lessons of modern and contemporary art, we are able to totally aestheticize the world—i.e., to see it as being already a corpse—without being necessarily situated at the end of history or at the end of our vital forces. One can aestheticize the world—and at the same time act within it. In fact, total aestheticization does not block political action; it enhances it. Total aestheticization means that we see the current status quo as already dead, already abolished. And it means further that every action that is directed towards the stabilization of the status quo will ultimately show itself as ineffective—and every action that is directed towards the destruction of the status quo will ultimately succeed. Thus, total aestheticization not only does not preclude political action; it creates an ultimate horizon for successful political action, if this action has a revolutionary perspective.

Newsweek: Protesters Sneak Into the Guggenheim, Make It Rain False Bills



The scene at Manhattans Guggenheim Museum on pay-as-you-wish evening this Saturday was soggy. Throngs of damp visitors, having been undeterred by the spring rainstorm and block-long line, mingled on the spiraling ramps for the museum’s exhibit of Italian Futurist art. Suddenly, a bell clanged, and a moment later, thousands of colorful slips of paper fluttered down from the balconies like confetti. Looking up from the rotunda had the cheerfully surreal effect of being within a snow globe. Visitors looked mostly happy and confused, and snatched the bits of paper as they fell.

“Is this part of the show?” one woman asked her companion. “I have no clue,” the other replied.

The paper turned out to be false dollar bills, intricately illustrated by Occupy Wall Street-affiliated artist Noah Fischer. One side of the bill read, “No Sustainable Cultural Value,” above a sketch of the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim soon to be built in Abu Dhabi. The other side was sketched with a protest scene, the red “Joie de Vivre” sculpture of lower Manhattans Zuccotti Park in the background. An image of the globe was wrapped in the question “What does an ethical global museum look like?” The upper edge read, “By the authority of s**it is f****d up & bulls*t.”

Zoe Schlanger

The bills were flung over the balconies by an activist political group called GULF (Global Ultra Luxury Faction), an affiliate of the activist groups Gulf Labor and Occupy Museums. A few days before, the group launched a fake Guggenheim website, where it is hosting a design competition for a “sustainable” Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. GULF got significant press last month for a similar interruption, when it unfurled banners over the Guggenheim ramps painted with the words “1% Museum,” “Abu Dhabi” and “Wage Theft.”

Both “interventions” were staged to protest what participants described as the indentured servitude of migrant laborers on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, where the new Guggenheim franchise will be built alongside the under-construction branch of the Louvre museum and a campus of New York University.

After the first protest, longtime New York Times art critic Holland Cotter wrote an article assessing the risk globalizing museums face of resembling multinational corporations built for the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

“What if seemingly incompatible institutional features—humane local wisdom and custodianship of treasures of art—could be made to coexist?” Cotter asks. “We’d have museums that are on the right side of history, and in which the future of art would be secure. That ideal is worth storming an empire for.”

Zoe Schlanger

In an op-ed published in the Times the same day as the second protest, NYU professor Andrew Ross, one of the main organizers behind GULF, urged the Guggenheim to establish good labor practices in a region where migrant laborers typically work for years to repay recruitment and relocation fees under the kafala sponsorship system and endure miserable conditions, as recently reported by The Guardian.

“If liberal cultural and educational institutions are to operate with any integrity in that environment, they must insist on a change of the rules,” Ross wrote.

Migrant labor is the majority of the population of the United Arab Emirates, where development continues at a breakneck pace. Over the past few years, Abu Dhabi has brought in tens of thousands of laborers to transform Saadiyat Island into a thriving $27 billion cultural development.


In 2009, a Human Rights Watch report found that workers had to “work for months or years simply to pay off their loans” from recruitment and relocation fees, and some employers reduced workers’ wages after hiring and withheld their passports, threatening fees to return them. By 2010, both NYU Abu Dhabi and the state-run Tourism Development & Investment Co. (TDIC) had announced new labor practices, praised by Human Rights Watch, that made contractors responsible for all recruitment fees and barred them from withholding passports.

PricewaterhouseCoopers was hired by the government to audit employer compliance each year, and NYU brought on a compliance monitor as well, though its independence has been questioned: Mott MacDonald, the contractor hired by NYU, is also “in charge of the electricity and responsible for [maintaining] the sewage and gas” in Abu Dhabi, according to Human Rights Watch’s Nick McGeehan.

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report released in December 2013 and analyzed by The New Yorker, some problem areas have improved: 100 percent of workers interviewed said they had “free access” to their passports, the instance of wage deductions had gone down, and more workers had access to better living quarters. Yet the kafala fees were even more widespread than before: 86 percent of the workers said they had paid recruitment fees, compared with 75 percent in 2012.

Zoe Schlanger

Within eight minutes of the bills fluttering down through the Guggenheim’s spiraling space, guards had cordoned off the rotunda and swept away most of the bills that plastered the rotunda floor and floated above the pennies in the museum fountain. Within an hour, New York City police had arrived.

Zoe Schlanger

The Guggenheim’s deputy director of global communications, Eleanor Goldhar, said in a statement that the museum is “currently engaged in ongoing, serious discussions with our most senior colleagues in Abu Dhabi and TDIC, the authority responsible for building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum, regarding workers’ rights. Our chairman of the board of trustees and director have just recently returned from meetings in Abu Dhabi where this issue was a top priority for discussion.”

The statement continues:

As global citizens, we share the concerns about human rights and fair labor practices and continue to be committed to making progress on these issues.  At the same time, it is important to clarify that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is not currently under construction, despite erroneous claims by certain protesters.  The building foundations and pilings were completed in 2011.

While in Abu Dhabi in mid-March 2014, our director revisited the workers village to ensure that living conditions for workers who will work on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will set new and respected standards for workers engaged in building other projects on Saadiyat Island.

Art in America: Protesting the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi: An Interview with G.U.L.F.


by Matthew Shen Goodman

Courtesy G.U.L.F.


Last Saturday, during the opening weekend of the Guggenheim's "Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe," some forty protestors proceeded to drop banners, hand out fliers and recite chants, all targeting the labor conditions for migrant workers on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island—the intended home of, among other institutions, franchises of the Guggenheim, the Louvre and New York University. These conditions have been under intense scrutiny by human rights organizations, trade and labor unions and politicians, following reports of widespread abuses that include the withholding of workers' passports, squalid living conditions, poverty-level wages and illegal recruiting fees.

Under the auspices of G.U.L.F., or the Global Ultra Luxury Faction, the protesting group comprised artists, students and members of activist groups Occupy Museums, NYU's Student Labor Action Movement and Gulf Labor. G.U.L.F.'s actions were quickly met with a response by Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong, leading to a series of exchanges, including G.U.L.F.'s follow-up response, the Guggenheim's answers to queries posed by Hyperallergic, and G.U.L.F.'s  reaction to those answers.

 A.i.A. met with G.U.L.F. members Nitasha Dhillon and Amin Husain, who formed the artist collaborative MTL after meeting at the Whitney Independent Study Program, and Noah Fischer, artist and member of Occupy Museums,  to discuss Saturday's events, the Guggenheim's importance in Abu Dhabi, and their hopes for future actions.

MATTHEW SHEN GOODMAN Can you describe what happened at the protest, and the efforts leading up to it?

AMIN HUSAIN Gulf Labor has been in existence for several years and, to invigorate their campaign and put more pressure on institutions like the Guggenheim, they recently launched "52 Weeks" [a year-long project in which artists and activists are invited to contribute a work, text or action highlighting the working conditions of migrant laborers building cultural institutions in Abu Dhabi]. MTL was invited to participate by Gulf Labor member and NYU professor of sociology Andrew Ross, so we produced this analysis and began to organize an action over the course of a few months. We invited everyone we thought had a stake in this: from NYU community members and organizations to artists and activists. The intention was to occupy the space in every dimension—with sound, images and presence—as long as we could. We've done banner drops before, but with the Guggenheim we had to figure out things like how you'd smuggle in a banner, let alone many banners, whether there's an aesthetic you're going to use because of the Futurism exhibit, etc.

The day of, we actually met on the front steps of the Met in advance, and we recited everything we were going to do very loudly, to get people to break their inhibitions. Then we all headed towards the Guggenheim. Some of us were already there—Nitasha and I actually got in using our Whitney IDs, so at 5:15 there were five of us scouting the place and bringing in over 500 fliers that we'd hidden in tote bags.

NITASHA DHILLON We'd made the banners out of Mylar blankets which can be folded up pretty tightly, so people tuck them into their pants. The protestors were divided into five teams, each assigned to different floors, and within those groups there were different roles. One person would hold the banner, one person would speak at the top of their lungs, and another person would deescalate, which meant telling the guards that the whole thing was a performance related to the Futurism show and that it'd be done in a second. The bugle started it off, and we all began to recite the script. All of the visitors came to us and started to listen. At the end people clapped, which was kind of fascinating.

SHEN GOODMAN Do you ever receive the criticism that you're singling out the Guggenheim, perhaps unfairly?

DHILLON: They've certainly gotten numerous institutions together—including the Louvre, NYU and the British Museum—to build a cultural paradise for incredibly wealthy people. As for the idea that we're targeting a select institution, we're acting where we're at, which is here in New York. Furthermore, Saadiyat Island is being built onyour cultural capital. [The Guggenheim] is the name that's attracting investment and other institutions to the island. It's part of the economy and the PR image, so there's no way the museum is not part of the problem. These abuses are happening as we speak.

SHEN GOODMAN What makes this action a success, in your eyes, and what would you like to come out of it?

NOAH FISCHER: I think it's already been a success in many ways. You see people online working it out for themselves, which is proof that we're changing the conversation. With a certain level of misinformation, politics isn't possible—what we're doing here is challenging the Guggenheim's press releases about the situation. That's why we're calling on the museum to have an open assembly: there can be a difference from these press salvos, and I think that'd be good for everybody.

HUSAIN: We already won, in one sense. The idea that we can gather forty people, create this coalition, go in and occupy the Guggenheim for 25 minutes, co-opting their media mechanism and starting a public discourse about this issue—that's a win. In terms of what we see next, it's a win if they have an independent monitor that will hold them accountable and be beneficial to the workers. It'd be a win if they'd open up their doors and have a conversation with us.

FISCHER: It's a win for art, because we're artists. The idea that activism or political art is somehow separate is bullshit, because all art is political. A lot of people are talking about the emptied-out aesthetics that the market prefers, and I think that with these actions we're proposing a practice that's walking in a direction of a new reality. If the Guggenheim decided to host an assembly about this issue, we'd be creating culture together. We'd be flying the flag of what art can be in our times.

Obieg: Summary of 2013


Summary of 2013

(translated from the Polish)

In response to the request of the editors of "Circulation" send a subjective summary of the past year. Usually on such occasions I read in summary, they do not like to do that, do not see themselves in that role, or do not feel. I first instinct too, so I reacted. But then it started to follow me around, until I realized that such a summary of yourself to me useful to recapitulate the conclusions from my own experiences. Since I lack clear criteria, but I wanted to avoid ranking.Finally, I decided to evaluate in this way only three categories of events the most interesting, the most embarrassing and most inspiring public institutions. Other indications I created alphabetically or chronologically. Most of them tried to somehow better define or justify. I realize that, as a critic put only the first steps, I did not recognize yet all institutions, artists and events, so my list is not exhaustive. However, it is an honest opinion of this matter, which over the years he had learned.Time will tell, of course, where I was wrong, and where I am right. I'm curious.

Winter Holiday Camp at Ujazdowski Castle - an unprecedented experiment studying the mechanisms of power in the field of cultural institutions and seeking ways of democratic transformation. Initially admitted to the CCA, then torpedoed by the management, then - under pressure from the media and the environment - re-adopted (in part). The project was attended by artists and art-activists of the Polish, Germany, USA and Hungary, among others, Pawel Althamer, Noah Fischer and Arthur Zmijewski. Formulated their demands radical egalitarian in the management of cultural institutions derive from the experience of the international Occupy movement and represent an interesting model of society (not?) Distant future.
Art in America: Pawel Althamer and the Queen Mother


by Faye Hirsch

A poster from Pawel Althamer's 2013 Performa commission. Copyright Paula Court. Courtesy Performa.

A quirky event Tuesday night honored a New York advocate of the homeless with a sprawling sculpture, feast and ceremony. Intoning the word "mother" repeatedly, laying down honorary textiles and bestowing flowers on members of a shivering crowd, Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely of Harlem blessed a 50-foot-long, scrap-steel and mixed-medium statue of a reclining figure created by the Polish sculptor Pawel Althamer and collaborators. This was the highlight of a three-week-long participatory project conducted at Biba, a trendy bar on the Kent Avenue waterfront in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood.

A brainchild of the protean Polish social sculptor, in conjunction with his sons Szymon (a chef) and Bruno (an artist), and New York-based artists Noah Fischer, Roman Stanczak, Rafael Zwirek and the Aaron Burr Society, the project unfolded along the Williamsburg waterfront, in the shadow of high-rise developments that are emblematic of the gentrification of that edge of Brooklyn. Althamer has long admired Blakely, popularly acclaimed the "Community Mayor of Harlem and Goodwill Ambassador to Africa."

"This is my first visit here," the Queen Mother informed me. Diminutive and cheery, dressed in an orange turban and African-inspired garb, she seemed on first appearance an unlikely muse for the exotic female colossus (or reclining Buddha, as some in the crowd contended) that she was summoned to bless. Althamer wandered among the crowd, smiling and shaking people's hands. After the ceremony, a small crowd of around 100 people retired to Biba to partake of a generous supper—"Polish fusion," remarked a Performa press rep— devised by Szymon Althamer, a Warsaw chef. Among the decorations inside was a smaller version of the sculpture, a maquette that had been paraded to the site shortly after Halloween, as attested by a video on the Performa website. The waterfront sculpture was dismantled Thursday night.

Queen Mother of Reality is a joyful pastiche, backlit by the Manhattan skyline. Among other ingredients: a cluster of gray felt hats, a blown-up photo of the Queen Mother's face at a younger age, spray-painted and taped blankets, headlights, hubcaps and other urban detritus. These are arranged rather elegantly over an open-work body that one could enter through a small door in the belly, finding in its "womb" (another word the Queen Mother intoned) numerous politically inspired drawings and slogans on paper that had been produced by collaborators and visitors during the previous weeks. The work was typical of Althamer, whose cohort of silver cyborgs, their faces bearing the likenesses of present-day Venetians, impressed visitors to "The Encyclopedic Palace" at this year's Venice Biennale. The Brooklyn sculpture, by contrast, felt more optimistic, conceived as a symbolic protector of displaced women.

The event definitely leaned toward the random and participatory end of performance. But it's difficult to be too snarky about a project inspired by something of a saint. The Queen Mother, an ex-Roman Catholic nun on whom "Sister Act" was reportedly based, has been walking Harlem's 125th Street for decades, visiting women and youths, and protesting the violence of an increasingly polarized economy. She became a hero of the Occupy movement.

Here, however, she relaxed, feasting at a table with old friends, women likewise dressed in African attire. "Ask Hillary Clinton about me," she said. "She knows what I do. Ask Bill!" She paused, before adding enigmatically, "But don't ask them together."


Artinfo: Get Ready for Debtfair, Where Collectors Can Buy Works by Paying Off Artists’ Debts


This September the decentralized art fair Debtfair will take over sites sprinkled throughout New York City, offering collectors an opportunity to acquire works by young artists not by paying them directly, but rather by paying off their debts. “We’re holding it in venues public and private throughout the city,” co-organizer Tal Beery told DNAinfo. “The commitment the artists are making is also to speak with people interested in their art about their economic realities.” The fair’s website is keeping a running tally of participating artists’ cumulative debt, which currently stands at $1,114,168.44. 

Co-organized by a group of Bushwick-based artists and Occupy Museums members, the fair will take the form of artist-designed maps, booths, and performances throughout the city. Thus far the artists signed up to participate in the fair include Saul Chernick, Maraya Lopez, Joel Richardson, and William Powhida. Artists interested in participating can sign up or request more information here.

“The capitalist debt system profits even more when people ignore their loans and pay them late, or slowly,” Noah Fischer, another of the fair’s co-founders, told DNAinfo. “It’s about understanding that all economic behavior, like culture, is ultimately collective and needs to go horizontal.”

Popular Resistance: Occupy Museums Calls on Deans to Support DebtFair for Students


As Congress again fails to prevent the doubling of student loan interest rates to 6.8% (nine times the 0.75% rate paid by big banks), Occupy Museums, a group of artists and activists from the Occupy movement, are calling on deans of U.S. art schools to be transparent with their students about the risks of student loans. In an open letter published this week and sent via email and post nationwide, the group asks deans to:

Vomit Money

“Begin a process of transparency in your art institution: educate your students about the realities of debt, and disclose the relationships between your board members and predatory lenders.”

In the letter, Occupy Museums invites deans to support a new art market mutual aid model called DebtFair, which aims to bail their students out of debt.

“DebtFair is a series of experimental market-actions that highlight the corrosion of culture through the economic trap of debt,” says organizer and Occupy Museums member Imani Brown. “We are calling on all elements of the art world to recognize the toxicity of our generation’s ballooning debt to our future prospects, as people and as artists. DebtFair is about building solutions together in the face of our government’s failures.”

Occupy Museums

DebtFair proposes a novel way of viewing and exchanging art, juxtaposing the artists’ economic realities alongside images of their work. On DebtFair’s website, visitors access art images by first reading and clicking on an artist’s debt confessional. “We are looking into the connections between visual culture and debt,” says organizer Tal Beery, “and the website is a growing interactive database of these connections.” DebtFair also plans to host a bailout market where artists will exchange artwork for checks made out to their lending banks.

“The top of the art market is booming, but culture is a fragile ecosystem and the roots are rotting,” adds organizer Noah Fischer. “We know the current model is unsustainable and we need art schools and artists alike to put their influence and resources behind projects that aim for alternatives.”

“DebtFair is acting as a whistleblower in relation to the student debt crisis,” concludes Meredith Degyansky. “At its core, it’s about building a solidarity network in the arts.”

occupy_museums at Museum of Moden Art

The New York-based group is planning an artists meet-up on August 11 at Abrons Art Center for artists and art lovers to connect around shared economic realities and help develop this new model. More information can be found on www.debtfair.org.


Open Letter to the Deans of Art Programs on the Occasion of the “Fix” of Student Loan Interest Rates

Dear Dean ______,

The educational product you currently offer is misleading, and it’s having a toxic effect on our culture in the form of debt.

Your university’s degrees feed on artists’ aspirations and promise a return of professional advancements such as high-end sales, prestigious galleries and academic careers. Yet these opportunities rest in increasingly fewer hands, and the mechanisms of privilege are ignored. The 99% of us either balk at the financial risk of pursuing higher art education, or will spend our entire lives struggling to pay off our loans. We are forced to push our art practice aside to work long hours at unsatisfying jobs that enable us to keep pace with climbing interest payments. This system resembles indentured servitude where the few capitalize on the labor of the many. But models do exist where the value of culture is shared.

Money Uncle Sam wants you to spend

Occupy Museums has launched DebtFair, a series of experimental market-actions to address the debt crisis in the arts. DebtFair encourages solidarity rather than competition among artists. It asks participating artists to be transparent about their debt and economic reality, and asks collectors to help sustain culture rather than use it as a tool for speculation. We need models like DebtFair to heal the untenable situation caused by your institutions.

Why are we, as cultural producers, encouraged to contribute to a luxury market for the few at the expense of the many? How could our nation spend more money per year on prisons than on education? What kind of culture are we building for the future?

These are not abstract questions. Tomorrow, Congress will attempt a “fix” to prevent a doubling of student loan interest rates. While students are praying that their rates remain at 3.4%, big banks continue to borrow from our government at 0.75%. The toxic equation of a doubling of interest rates will allow them to steal $37 billion annually from students. But even if the doubling is prevented, the status quo is a crisis for artists and for art education.

We are reaching out to you as a potential ally. You, as [TITLE] of [SCHOOL] are inseparable from this crisis and can be instrumental to its resolution. Ignoring this problem is no longer an option. We invite you to support realistic alternatives. We are calling on you to:

Slave of Wall Street Free Money

  1. Begin a process of transparency in your art institution: educate your students about the realities of debt, and disclose the relationships between your board members and predatory lenders.
  2. Encourage your president and board to freeze tuition rates.
  3. Lend your support to DebtFair (www.debtfair.org) which aims to bail your students out of debt and attend the meetup and discussion at Abrons Art Center in New York in early August. You will be receiving an additional invitation about this event. Your presence will help to initiate a mutual aid movement to bail artists out of debt.

Enough is enough. We need a cultural bailout in the face of a student debt crisis.


Occupy Museums

Kritica Politycza: Art needs a bailout. Noah Fischer in conversation with Jakub Majmurek

Polish Version: http://www.krytykapolityczna.pl/artykuly/kultura/20130615/fischer-sztuka-potrzebuje-bailoutu

JM: You were one of the founders of Occupy Museums Movement, which in autumn 2011 started it’s activity by occupying flag museums of NYC – like Museum of Modern Art, or Natural History Museum. What had been happening with the movement since then? In the spring 2012 you were participating in Berlin Biennale curated by Artur Żmijewski, wasn’t you? Artur asked you to join indignados activists occupying groundfloor of Berlin’s Kunstwerke. What do you think about that experience?


The Berlin Biennale was a complex experience because it required us to be entangled in the institution – this was an experience we didn’t have in our previous actions. In 2011 we marched straight from Zuccotti Park to the front of the museums. We were occupying tchem as „outsiders”,  in solidarity with activists,  unions, artists, many groups- the energy of the park was our base.  We were not invited but asked people working in that museums up to the directors to join our assemblies, but they never came. In Berlin it was different: We were collaborating with a curator, who asked us to come and paid for our journey. It was confusing, „muddy” but I think it was a necessary step for what our group is trying to achieve, which is finding a political possibilities in a time of political impossiblities. In the Biennale we broke down the simple opposition of being outside/inside the institution.


Were you not afraid, that entering the institution can lead to a pacification of a movement? A lot of Polish art critics writing about Biennale were pointing out, that an activist were contained in the space of a Biennale, like the animals in a zoo.



I think that’s a very limited thinking. Because it implies that there’s something like a pure space outside institutions – and I don’t think that there’s anything like that. Not anymore. For example, The same financial market is present both outside and inside.  So I think we need to be flexible and also not to fetishize poltical purity but rather take an experimental approach. We can’t forget that there’s no institution, which couldn’t be hacked. In every institution we can find a possible allies for our cause because institutions are made of people with different and malleable ideas. We’re artists making politics and we can see institutional framework as a medium. With every institution, we’d like to ask the question: where’s the leverage?


Did you find a leverage during the Biennale?



I think we did. Or at least we found some interesting possibilities. One was simply using resources of the Biennale, following Artur’s idea, to use it as a hub for activist all over the world to assemble and plan in person. So we made our own network of contacts with different activists at BB7 We did plan some actions with M15 and we used Berlin as an action lab.  For example we designed an „animal” action at Deutsche Bank which is a common foe in Span and the US where it is connected to the housing crisis. The other one was that we realized that we had to „horizontalize” the institution in order to be there in the right way.  This meant focusing on the community in the KW and trying to completely share power with everyone there and see what was possible from this standpoint. Neither of these two experiments has yet been conclusive. It is still to be seen, how the network we built during Biennale, will actually work in the future. Now, I’m working on a project in Europe together with Artur Żmijewski, we’ll try to hack other institutions.


In the interview for Biennale reader you’ve said, that a lot of people involved in Occupy Museums are working in art institutions. Now, after almost two years, could you say, that the activity in the movement break, or help your careers?



I can speak about myself. It’s not clear whether it break my career or not. My concept of what a career as an artist looks like has also changed a lot. During Occupy Wall Street, I decided to leave the commercial art world which meant quitting my gallery.  I’m not connected with any institution now, I don’t make any exhibitions in New York actually. I am still working in my studio, but very quietly these days.   I am now working mainly in the self-made network we managed to assemble since autumn 2011. That network generates of course some symbolic capital- more in Europe than the US actually, because the market is more dominant in New York. But I hope that we can invest this cultural capital in the growth of a network and the mobilization of many people against economic injustices.  



Were you able to enter any institution in the US recently in the similar way, you hacked the Biennale?



Yes – there was one--Momenta Art Gallery in Brooklyn, NYC. Its a very good non-profit space which has been around a long time.  They basically invited us (Occupy Musseums)  to do whatever we want with their space. So we opened the space as a common resource for the Occupy movement, for different groups and artists. We organize different discussions there. One of them was focused on philanthropy. In the US we have a different system than in Europe, we have no art institutions supported by the government by more than 10-15%. Even the institutions that have a public mission are supported by private donations and grants, so philanthropy is the most important topic for art. Institutions and always getting more important. In the reaction to that discussion one of Momenta’s board members actually step down. Which shows how dangerous topic it is to discuss about, it shows that there is probably a lot of self-censorship going on in the arts because people are scared of their funders. 


Were you ever trying to convince American authorities to adapt a more European approach towards financing art?



No. It wouldn’t work.  We are just too far away from the reality where the government supports culture in the US, and we are still walking the wrong direction.  In the US, you can shoot down sucha n argument immediately by calling someone a “socialist”--- it’s still a big insult in the US. There is not much language for speaking about collectivity- and art. And culture is seen as the ultimate space for individuality.  So for now, we are working toward  autonomous activity of the social movements and also for small models which we can try out, not on advocating changes in the funding structure of the government. Maybe in the distant future state-supported art would be possible in the US, but not now, I think.


What else, besides Momenta, are you doing now?



We’re beginning work with a group of Native Americans. We’ll try to hack Indian Museum in NYC and Washington, D.C. It’s an extremely interesting and important topic which takes us back to the foundation of museums. In the US we have discussed the issue of slavery, but the problem of the primal genocide of Native Americans is still to be discussed. They were the very first victims of American greed, the relationships with them shaped American attitude towards the other ethnic groups, land and war.

Museums of Native Americans also point to another interesting problem. Most of the artifacts exhibited there were stolen from their rightful owners. Actually most of the greatest museums in the world possessed their treasures due to an act of theft, very often accompanied with the violence. Our common action with Native Americans is aimed at emphasizing this fact and building a foundation to completely rethink cultural institutions.


So, summing it up, after autumn 2011, did you entirely give up occupying spaces like MoMa?



We;ll, of course we might always do it again,  but we did move to the next stage which is looking more deeply into contexts, longer term collaborations, and setting up models. Every social movement has to develop, come from one stage, to another. We’re changing very rapidly. In 2011 we had  many people dedicated to constant street actions almost every day and we also had a kind of access to national and international media we don’t have today- this was a lot of power and allowed things to develop quickly.  But meaningful change is a long term project and its necessary to search for a different form of action, to focus on less spectacular projects and go deeper.


The similar thing seems to happen with OWS movement. After the protesters had been evicted from Zuccotti Park, the movement a kind of disappeared from public attention.



Well, it went underground (laughter). OWS also went de-centralized and switched to less spectacular projects. The most important of tchem currently  is Occupy Sandy, which is a direct respond to Hurricane Sandy. It tries to create a new model of mutual aid, able to address environmental disasters like that. And it is actually working very well. There’s a program addressing a problems of debt


 , called „Strike Debt” They are concerned about the large amount of personal debt Americans possess which is one reason s omany peoople lost their houses in the 2008 crisis. They are figuring out how to organize debt strikes and also clevel economic actions for people to buy off cheap debt and fogive i.  Then there are lots of Occupy environmental groups working to stop the XL pipeline from coming to New York.  There are different art groups organzing and creating actins for the media.

Although each of the Occup groups faces a steep climb to do their work, I think now is a very good time for activism because the market optimism of the growth economy seems to have stalled. Now that the economy is really in a bad shape, people can see, that we need a new model. Now we have to fight against a growing police state and the environment of fear and technological control, but people are waking up all over the world, and this is a great chance.


In 2011 you were criticizing the contemporary model of communication between the art world and general public, organized around big, rich galleries and the people who run them. What kind of model of communication between artist and it’s public you’d like to build?



We need much less hierearchy, closer communication, and more human respect. It’s necessary to find a language for culture which is less tied to money, less tied to class. Currently, art Is more and more associated to art Fairs like Art Base lor to auctions which are special markets for the ultra-rich.  Lots of money laundering goes on there, also lots of top tier social climbing--why should most people care? They don’t, or they feel left out.   Only a shared language and effectively shared institutions can make art really powerful and socially important. But there is a counterforce which is stopping this from happening.  I think that the greatest problem in the contemporary art system is speculation. Art is treated as an asset, which can be put into speculative game on the market. It works with art in the same way as it does with derivatives, or gold. And this is one piece in the puzzle of global capital. It’s a very bad situation for the social relevance of art.


What does this exactly mean for the artists?



That some of them are making other people very rich, which makes them quite financially successful. And the artists, who are not making anything for the rich people, are practically starving- or their labor is not valued. This is the first thing we should address: art shouldn’t be an unregulated speculation asset. Another  important mechanism here—especially in the US-- is pesonal debt. Many of the artists are heavily indebted. The people who collect art are kind of bailing out some of the artists from their debts but of course, only a tiny fraction.  But since most are in debt, they have no choice but to try to beomce that small fraction and that means nasty competition and de-politicization of artists. We need an alternative model to address artist’s debts, so that more artists could serve a social functions.  We need a kind of artist union- some network of leverage.  We need to rethink the art market.


But how could we build the alternative model of art circulation? How could it look like?



We live in the information age, which makes it very easy for things, images and things to circulate- at least as information. And its easy for people to connect together in horizontal networks. This is potentially threatening to the hierarchical functioning of institutions. I believe we actually can build an alternative model which adds a lot of transparency which is missing now.  Unfortunately all these tools aren’t good or  neutral, they can easily be used also for opposite goals: For more inequality, greater concentration of power, information and other resources in the hands of the few and for converting everything into statistics which can easily be manipulated.  This is happening now in the arts where some projects are trying to convert the whole Art World into a rating system for the market. But we can do a lot with networking tools and we must try. for example I witnessed a success of  an action of Strike Debt, where people used the internet to bail out  medical debts of other people.  The key is to encourage collectivity- that our fate is bound up together instead of everyone being in economic competition.  I’m now working on a model which connects art circulation to personal debt so that selling art only goes to pay off debts. I’d like to see if the artist and public would be willing to share in their struggle with debt so that spending money on art becomes a way to suport culture from the roots rather than making the wealthiest wealthier.  Maybe if people have access to more information and a good network and exchange system, they will prefer such a market and maybe it can act as a creative impulse for the artists.


Guernica Magazine: Creative resistance, via public art, in an age of pessimism and a city of commerce


By Kirsten O’Regan

In ancient Athens, the agora functioned as market, civic center, and meeting-place; a large, open space ringed by temples, shops, libraries, theatres, and administrative buildings, it was a buzzing communal hub and a locus of financial and political exchange. Supporting social networks and the free trade of goods, services, and ideas, the agora enabled public speech and was thus central to the establishment of democracy.

In modern Athens (as in Madrid, Cairo, Rome, Tehran), public spaces have again become a vehicle for personal and political expression. Across the Middle East and Europe, the imperatives of state and market have disintegrated, allowing a wave of protest art to burst through the cracks. Crude, volume-driven graffiti and sophisticated, colorful murals splatter the walls of myriad downtowns. The youth—disenfranchised, jobless, and opinionated—have turned to the streets to enact their claim to citizenship; their eclectic, impassioned offerings a collective expression of socio-political aspirations and frustrations.

One suspects that Jane Jacobs would have applauded. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs suggested that the complex needs of urban centers are too often bulldozed by governmental financial incentives promoting monotony, sterility and vulgarity. “There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness and disorder,” she wrote, “and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and be served.”

More than one year since the start of Occupy, New York’s urban surfaces remain relatively sterile and the agora is reserved for commerce.

Amongst the pictorial outpouring in recession-blighted Europe, one image has recurred: a small girl with her belongings in a handcart. The graphic originated as an illustration by U.S. artist Molly Crabapple—one of the many figures referred to in an April 2012 BBC article, “Does Occupy signal the death of contemporary art?” The author’s thesis: that the plethora of politically engaged, publically available artwork associated with the global Occupation represented a “cultural zeitgeist” rejecting commercialism and focusing on collective, public art with a social purpose.

But more than one year since the start of Occupy, New York’s urban surfaces remain relatively sterile and the agora is reserved for commerce. The euphoric momentum of Occupy has dwindled, and while its iconic imagery may metastasize across marble in Monastiriki, here at home it has been efficiently cleared off the streets and into the dustbin of history.




In the case of of Molly Crabapple, the artwork was cleared into the Smart Clothes gallery on the Lower East Side—where “Shell Game”, her Kickstarter-funded series of large, jewel-hued paintings depicting the political turmoil of 2011 (Occupy Wall Street, the Tunisian Revolution, the health care crisis), has just finished exhibiting. Executed in a similar Victorian style to her pen and ink work, and with the same frenzied visual chaos and declarative allegory, the paintings are an eloquent reflection on a year of protest. During 2011, Crabapple’s work was protest itself: posters bearing her image of an enraged and gluttonous black sea-creature and the demand, “Fight the Vampire Squid: Occupy Wall Street”, were borne aloft through New York’s streets.

Having started out in the art-world as a nude model, Crabapple never felt “serious enough” to make political art. Then in 2011, she says, “I felt that things had come to a crisis point, and it was incumbent on everyone to pick sides.” While she is quick to reject the label of “street artist” (she didn’t put up the wheat-pastes herself, she explains), her work is intended to reach out to people who aren’t inherently political. Steering away from the typically blunt aesthetics of activist art, she wanted to create something beautiful but with a clear message. “I wanted to do a politicized poster that looked like a fairytale.”

Her illustrations, like the May Day “General Strike” poster, quickly went up across the U.S. and around the world. She loaded hi-res images to the Internet to encourage people to print and use them in different contexts. “I think that digital is very interesting,” she reflects. “In some ways it’s the most egalitarian art platform because there’s no money in it, but it’s also the least egalitarian because you can only access it via very expensive devices.”

Regardless, Crabapple is not morally conflicted about releasing her art into a privatized market where her large paintings fetch around $12,000. “I’m not someone who’s against making money,” she says. “Selling my art is just what I do. It’s like being a carpenter.” Indeed, context makes this crucial. “We live in a country that has no governmental support for artists, and no real social safety net,” she says.

Having travelled throughout Europe in preparation for “Shell Game” and for Discordia (a collaborative project with Laurie Penny about the Athenian street protests—Penny wrote the essay, Crabapple illustrated the book), she is aware of societal differences. She laughs when she thinks back to Athenian street art (some of which is incorporated into her paintings). “It was the most graffitied city I have ever seen in my life!” she recalls. “But the fact that they’re doing these amazing illegal pieces of art is kind of the least of it in terms of the other laws they’re breaking.” The U.S., she points out, is not so conducive a context for illicit public art. “It’s a much more picking and scrambling environment,” she explains, “and much more militarized.”

Crabapple was arrested in the Occupy anniversary protests, two days before Discordia was released as an e-book. The street artists she knows face similar penalties on a regular basis.




Penalties for illegal public art are perhaps why artists are flocking to informal outdoor art galleries—pockets of the city where permission is sought from apartment owners and businesses, and murals explode across privately-owned edifices that jut into public space. One such nexus, The Bushwick Collective, is gradually transforming the warehouses of de-industrialised East Brooklyn into huge canvases.

On a sunny Sunday, self-appointed curator Joseph Ficolora is loitering at the heart of the Collective—wryly aware that his project is altering the neighborhood. A yellow cab goes by. “Look at that!” he says. “You never used to get those around here.” While dealing with aTimes reporter, Ficolora dispatches me down the road. “There’s an artist at 207 Starr right now,” he says. “Go check it out. Tell him Joe sent you.”

A young artist who goes by Gaia is working on a rooftop above a Polish deli. He is perched on a red ladder and carefully defining the pecs of Greek god Hermes when I arrive. The mural is maybe 12ft high: at its base is a representation of the cerulean-turquoise Thai baht and above that the red Chinese yuan. Superimposed over both is the imperious torso of the same Mercury who lives on the ceiling of Grand Central Station.

“The point is that this neighborhood has obviously been very much affected by the advance of neoliberal policy,” Gaia explains. Plastered with Chinese signage, this relatively poor corner of Bushwick has been drastically altered by immigration and the outsourcing of labor to cheap markets. Mercury, the god of commerce, embodies the speed of capital, while the Asian bank notes represent liberalized currency.

Gaia—real name Andrew Pisacane, a MICA sculpture grad—is careful to create context-specific art, as a means, he says, to avoid the accusation of “imposed aesthetics” and “alien gentrification” often leveled at muralists. Before he sets out to paint, he asks himself: “What are the issues regarding these spaces, and then how do you speak to these issues? And how do you speak to the identities that define those spaces?” Ideally, he wants to create a dialogue. “It can even be antagonistic,” he allows, “That’s not bad. I mean, of course, it’s weird to say ‘It’s getting people talking’, because people are always talking. But it can be challenging, and it can be almost—crystallizing.”

Gaia prefers to think of street art’s modus operandi as “unbridled expression,” and admits that in big American cities this can turn out to be a lot of self-serving noise.

Gaia has been working on the streets for seven years, since he was 18. He started in New York then moved to Baltimore to study. He still lives there, but travels seven months out of the year— paid flights to Jakarta, Bangkok, Buenos Aires—to take part in mural festivals. The type of mural he wants to paint would be impossible to complete illegally, he says, due to zealous policing. As a result, “Not much painting actually happens in New York. It’s just starting.”

Although Gaia’s current mural is clearly critiquing the global economy, he has little patience with political posturing. “Political street art for the sake of looking political is annoying in and of itself,” he says. “That’s not politics, that’s just an extension of guerrilla branding. It looks subversive, but it’s not subversive at all.” He prefers to think of street art’s modus operandi as “unbridled expression,” and admits that in big American cities this can turn out to be a lot of self-serving noise. “In New York, its definitely about the Instagram, and the cell-phone hits, and Facebook.”

This system is not something you can escape, he says—“I mean, you have to make money”—but its egotism can be mitigated by avoiding advertorial self-branding. Gaia stipulates that, because he is working legally, he is functioning as a muralist and not a street artist—but a muralist with a street art mentality. “And a street art mentality is, fuckin’, I’ll work for nothing, I wanna get it up, I wanna put it out there, I wanna speak to people.”

He speaks fondly about painting illicitly in Europe, describing the sense of liberation that creating blatantly polemical street art can bring. “The artists [there] are very open-minded and very into collaboration,” he says. “They’ve achieved this level of illegal mural-making without having to worry about too many police. And also, there’s a certain liberty about their mindset: ‘Let’s just paint a fuckin’ giant-ass wall on a Saturday. Bring some wine and just do that’.”




It could be argued that a comparable ethos—collaboration, political activism, community spirit—exists among the crew of the Illuminator: a van kitted out during OWS to project revolutionary light-images onto the fabric of the city. The Illuminator debuted with the 99% bat-signal that branded the Verizon building during OWS’s 2month anniversary march over the Brooklyn Bridge. Two years on, the Illuminator is collaborating with organizations to support causes such as tax justice, and creating projects on their own initiative: “Free Pussy Riot” projected onto the Russian consulate, for example.

“We are stewards of a movement resource,” says Mark Read, NYU Gallatin Professor and the project’s instigator. He is ambivalent about whether the Illuminator’s installations are art. “The thing about calling it art,” he worries, “is that often the reason to do so is to accrue social, cultural capital to oneself.” But accruing capital might not be such a bad thing, in terms of leverage and exposure.

The Illuminator is perhaps most aligned, he allows, to social practice art, in which the medium is human interaction itself. “What those artists are wanting to impact or to shift is the social. Meaning the way that we understand ourselves as social beings,” he explains. “In what ways those understandings are shaped by capitalism, and what other possibilities for understanding our social selves might be shaped under different conditions?”

Although the Illuminator works declaratively, its public spectacle can create opportunity for discussion. While projecting messages in solidarity with Boston onto BAM, some 300 people amassed. Skilled graphic designers in the crew were able to create new images on request. “There was this ability to do things on the fly, and create a really great discursive space,” Read enthuses.

Although he has no metrics to measure the effect of the Illuminator beyond Facebook shares, he is convinced art is crucial to socio-political transformations. “Systems of domination and oppression are not merely top-down,” he says. “It’s not really the boot on the neck of the masses—it’s that those systems of thinking are inscribed throughout the culture.” Hence the Illuminator. “Semiotic guerrilla warfare is sort of what we’re practicing,” he says. “It’s not my phrase, but it’s a good one.”

Occupy, the Arab Spring, the Euro crisis have been collectively termed “the movement of the squares,” Read says. But “in New York City the commons is increasingly privatized and increasingly policed. It’s not really an accessible space. The square has been kind of eroded.” The Illuminator’s actions are basically legitimate (“It’s free speech”), but that doesn’t prevent the police from giving them trouble.

On top of this, Read diagnoses the U.S. with a sense of despair that makes protest art seem pointless. “You know, we’re faced with these crises,” he says. “Certainly gun violence is a crisis, but also the economic crisis, the environmental crisis… and the political system is so sclerotic it can’t respond.” In New York, added to this despondency is the siren song of the high-brow art world.

Noah Fischer, Brooklyn-based artist and one of the key figures behind Occupy Museums (dedicated to exposing the economic injustice of cultural institutions) agrees. “You go to New York to ‘make it,’” he says. “There’s conditioning that points to private space being the thing because private space means fame, financial success.” While somewhere like Berlin is purely a creative capital (Frankfurt being Germany’s financial centre), New York is a center of both art and commerce. The financial district in Manhattan makes rents prohibitive and policing vigorous, thus “the space of resistance easily gets pushed out to the margins.”

The U.S., Fischer argues, has lost the sense of public space being important; culture has suffered, as art is no longer seen as a common good but rather as a privatized luxury. Occupy Museums is engaged in enabling people to “enact the kind of cultural citizenship that we wanted”: it is currently working on a proposal for a new art market, and planning to hold an alternative art fair tying art directly to debt across New York in September. “There are worlds of resistance across the city,” Fischer insists, “they just find it a little hard to flourish.”




One such cell of defiance is Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose posters protesting street harassment have been appearing across Brooklyn. The posters bear sketched black and white portraits of women, and slogans like “Stop telling women to smile,” “My name is not Baby,” and “Women do not owe you their time or conversation.”

An oil painter and illustrator, Fazlalizadeh has always been drawn to grapple with socio-political issues in her art. She suggests that her ability to deal straightforwardly with politics is a result of her illustrator background—like Crabapple, she is used to making work that is “very on the nose, not subtle. It’s there in your face.” Perhaps because of this, unlike someone with a fine-arts focus, she “never felt the political element would take away from my artistic practice.”

Working recently on a collaborative mural in Philadelphia made Fazlalizadeh consider public art’s exciting possibilities. Unsure how to approach one particular subject in oils, a thought struck her: “street art, street harassment—they kinda go hand in hand.” Unsure about the legality of the whole project, she just went out and started putting them up. Although now aware that the wheat-pastes are illegal, she hasn’t come across trouble and hopes to spread them into Manhattan.

“I just want women to walk by these, and feel kinda comforted,” she says. “If guys see this and consider their own actions in the light of my artwork then that’s fantastic. But it’s mostly for women to feel empowered.” As her first foray into the world of street art, the project is also a fresh outlet for creativity: Fazlalizadeh wants to make the posters bigger, maybe incorporate some color, or work out how to do little pop-up murals. It’s a perfect combination, she says, of artistic innovation and social activism.

In The Third Man, Orson Welles famously espouses a theory that culture flourishes under conflict and tyranny rather than passive consensus.

Nevertheless, Fazlalizadeh is sometimes dispirited by the lack of critical political engagement amongst the U.S. populace—a frustration that fuelled her oil series “Get Angry”, inspired by the protests and revolutions of 2011. “There’s a lot of stuff to not be happy with in the U.S.,” she says, and while plenty of people are struggling for change, “there’s also a lot of complacency.” As an artist, she feels privileged to have a medium of expression—and she recognizes that not everyone is so lucky. “Some things just seem so insurmountable,” she suggests. “If people didn’t feel that way, then a lot could change.”




In The Third Man, Orson Welles famously espouses a theory that culture flourishes under conflict and tyranny rather than passive consensus. Out of the Borgia’s reign of terror came the Renaissance, he reasons, while, “In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Although the history behind this statement may be inaccurate, the line does articulate an uncomfortable truth. As political philosopher John Gray points out: “Culture thrives on contestation and antagonism, not some dreary fantasy of social harmony.”

Consider New York in the 1970s and early 80s: a rogue city plagued by crime, crack, and economic insecurity, but one in which creative self-expression flourished. The subway became a locus of artistic competition and social exchange—a subterranean square. Eric Felisbret took part in the graffiti culture on the trains, and now runs online archive “149th Street Graffiti” to commemorate the era. “When the movement first started it was in different boroughs,” he recalls, “and with the subway, kids in Brooklyn could see what kids in the Bronx were doing. People in different areas were exposed to different ideas.”

Graffiti was traditionally apolitical, Felisbret says, “but it did serve a lot of social and political needs, in the sense that when the movement was born it was in communities that were being neglected in general. Basically it was a statement, saying, ‘We’re here. We exist,’ from a segment of society that people preferred to sweep under the rug.”

The same statement of existence and resistance—the same simple claim to agency—was arguably made by Occupy in 2011. While the train-writers reclaimed an underground space for the assertion of individual ego, the Occupiers sought to open up an arena of public discourse for a collective declaration of citizenship. “Occupy was such a fucking amazing moment,” recalls Crabapple. “It felt like the Left got rid of their usual sectarian bullshit and came together to create a space that was both immensely kind and immensely threatening.”

In New York one hopes that Jane Jacobs’s “real order”—in the form of organized chaos and creative resistance, prompting discussions both inclusive and challenging—will find a way to creep into public space. Because quite apart from any higher political purpose, as Fischer points out, “pictures on the skin of the city add some poetry to everyday life.”

OWS talents and ideas replace crowds on U.S. streets

Haters dubbed the Occupy Wall Street movement as a bunch of bongo-playing, hand-rolled cigarette- smoking hippies. A year after the movement kick started, RT's Anastasia Churkina takes a deeper dive into the lives of a couple of active members of the movement, looking at the talents they bring to the table and the shift of the movement itself to a strategy-based campaign.

The Big Trouble with Bloomberg at Momenta Art


The idea behind Occupy Museum’s current project, Occupy Your BFF (Bloomberg Family Foundation) at Momenta Art, was to take financial information that already exists in the real world and showcase it in an art gallery. There’s print-outs of the Bloomberg Foundation’s I-990s, a video showing Michael Bloomberg’s living room, and charts documenting economic disparity in the States—all the type of stuff that can be found online. “The information is engaging in a way that could only occur in an art gallery,”  Occupy Museums organizer Imani Brown told us. All this sounds pretty basic to us, but Occupy’s target of choice—Bloomberg—has become a serious issue, giving rise to suspicion surrounding the recent departure of a Momenta Art board member.

That board member, we were told, left due to a conflict of interest stemming from his wife’s relationship to Bloomberg. Board member Laurence Mascera fits that profile. He has served as Director at Barclays Capital and Chief Administrative Officer of Broadpoint Gleacher, and his wife, Carol Mascera, has worked in the legal department for Bloomberg since January of this year. He left the board prior to Occupy Museum’s latest discussion panel “Big Philanthropy and the Bloomberg Family Foundation: Whom does it benefit?”, to be held this Friday, October 5th.

This whittles Momenta Art’s board to only non-dues-paying members. Understandably, board members have opted not to comment on the current shake-up.

The biggest possible irony in all this could be that Momenta Art makes no attempt to cover up the fact that their organization receives funding from the Bloomberg Foundation. That fact shows up in the vinyl lettering outside Momenta Art’s front door, and it’s mentioned on a cardboard sheet in the gallery tacked up by Occupy Museums.

“We didn’t want to hurt Momenta,” Occupy Museums’ Noah Fischer told us over the phone. “We felt like it was our job and role to bring that information to the forefront.”

Momenta Art co-founder Eric Heist extended an invitation to Occupy Museums after seeing their set-up at the Berlin Biennale. That invitation would not seem out of place for the decades-old organization focused on promoting artwork that deals with social engagement.

All told, Momenta Art will recover: board turnover is inevitable for any non-profit. This would have happened eventually, and if not with Bloomberg, then another foundation. Non-profit members are fickle as the wind, but here’s hoping Momenta Art’s next wave of new recruits will support the organization’s goals.

Art monthly: The #occupy effect on contemporary art


Art Monthly/September 2012

One month into this edition of Documenta, a young German architect by the name of Alexander Beck carried out a plan to install 28 white tents in front of the Fridericianum, bolstering a small camp of occupiers that had been there since the opening. Erected in guerrilla fashion at sunrise, the simple white structures were adorned with words representing the ‘basic evils’ of modern life, such as greed, profit and pride, in a symbolic protest that strategically appropriated the codes of contemporary art to occupy a prime site on the museum lawn.  


Fearing that doubling the size of the protest camp overnight would justify their instant eviction, Beck recounts that the occupiers ‘came to the unanimous decision to declare both parts of the camp, the wild and the well-ordered tent city, a total work of art.’ In fact, if anything was going to provoke the authorities into removing the mild-mannered protesters, then it was the pretension of calling their guerrilla action an artwork and thereby trespassing on the aesthetic sanctity of Kassel’s five-yearly survey of contemporary art.


The incongruity of the two adjacent tent villages, one reflecting the image of anarchic creativity associated with global protest movements, the other mimicking the clean and orderly aesthetics of museum modernism, created a disconcerting semiotic spectacle. As a result, susceptible members of the public were at risk of assuming that this prominently-sited intervention, incorporating Ida Applebroog-style political slogans and elements of live performance à la Tino Seghal, was actually part of the official exhibition.


Refusing to rise to the bait of what could be taken as a parody of her curatorial approach, peppered as it is with references to the ideas and aesthetics of the occupy movement, artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev released a statement the next day ‘welcoming the <doccupy> movement in Friedrichsplatz’. While acknowledging that the camp ‘continues the wave of democratic protests that have been spreading across many cities in the world’ and ‘appears to be in the spirit of Joseph Beuys’, the diplomatically-worded press release goes on to ask the occupiers to ‘care for the square’ and ‘consider the citizens of Kassel’. As the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung put it, this was like a reluctant party host telling uninvited guests to ‘come in, but don’t smash up too much.’


The surprising decision to endorse rather than order the removal of the conceptual campers’ tent village reflected the opportunism of both the protesters and the curatorial team. While the occupiers loudly proclaimed their sympathy for the aims of Documenta 13, using their intervention as a platform for propaganda and self-promotion, but refraining from criticising the institution they were supposedly ‘doccupying’, Christov-Bakargiev’s instinctive reaction was to co-opt the protest movement, in order to bolster the radical credentials of an exhibition that comes over as an under-curated patchwork of progressive and conservative forces.  


The occupy theme is indeed touched on repeatedly in the exhibition, although mostly to create an aesthetic effect and always somewhere on the periphery. While leading light of the movement Franco Berardi Bifo is hosting four seminars on life after the ‘dissolution of financial capitalism’, these are framed as a sub-section of the educational programme, one of a series of talks held at the Maybe Centre for Conviviality supported by Absolut, with vodka cocktails on hand to take the edge off the radical politics. By contrast, on the list of exhibited artists and with his own tower room in the Fridericianum, post-Adorno philosopher of the autonomy of art Christoph Menke is mounting an more prominent series of seminars that follow the anti-activist line according to which ‘art is the ability to be not able.’


Requisitioning the semantic space of protest for a post-modern art piece, Ida Applebroog produced thousands of flyers mocking the sincerity of political action, while hired protesters walk around wearing sandwich boards with slogans ranging from the feminist-surreal ‘Screw Mother’s Day’ to the ironic ‘Occupy Kassel’. Elsewhere a made-to-order artist’s collective, feebly entitled ‘And, And, And’, rehearses the clichés of the protest movement, holding asambleas and presenting their programme as a handwritten calendar of notes, but never going beyond utopian vagaries, let alone addressing the politics of the art event.    


The case of the Fridericianum protest camp is illustrative of wider reactions to the occupy phenomenon in contemporary art. Curators are visibly torn between a desire to embrace the Zeitgeist symbolised by popular movements from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, together with their exciting new tactics of rebellion from the use of social media to the continuous occupation of public space, and wariness of the micro-political implications of the call to ‘occupy everything’ for their own power structures and practices. Looking down from the fortress of the chief gatekeeper of the contemporary canon, it is not surprising that the preferred conduit for dialogue turns out to be the arms-length formality of the press release, while the consensual and fluid forms of organisation that are essential to the occupy movement are an implicit challenge to the quasi-corporate hierarchy of institutions like Documenta.


If 2011 witnessed the euphoric phase of the movements as they burst onto the flat screen of global consciousness, 2012 has seen contemporary art rush to capitalise, with a stream of major art events referencing the occupy phenomenon both by borrowing its open source concepts and seeking direct collaborations with social activists. The latter have been understandably wary in their turn of the motives of art institutions in recruiting them for biennials, with everyone seemingly hyper-aware of the danger that once again the energies of popular revolt will be appropriated by the unwitting agents of cognitive capitalism. 


Plugging into the buzz around occupy, the annual Steirischer Herbst arts festival in Graz opens this month with a 24-hour 7-day marathon camp involving hundreds of artists, activists and theorists who will ‘lecture, perform and play, produce, discuss, collect artistic strategies in politics and political strategies in art.’ Promising to be ‘not just another event about politics, but a political event itself’, the organisers claim that Truth is Concrete will also ‘investigate its own format and its own everyday decision making.’ The activists and artists invited to take part in the marathon camp show signs of resisting the tacit appropriation that is usually accepted as a quid pro quo for the public recognition entailed by inclusion in a major exhibition or biennial. Oliver Ressler, in an exchange with the curators on the festival blog, raises delicate questions about the ethics of expecting cultural workers on ‘starvation wages’ to in effect financially support the camp by making a loss, warning that the ‘underpayment of artists’ could become a central issue at the festival.


Echoes of these concerns can also be felt in the activities of The Precarious Workers’ Brigade, who highlight the increasingly difficult situation facing cultural workers in the UK in the wake of austerity (see their letter in AM July/August). Their focus is on the unfairness of a system that relies on an army of unpaid interns, along with a post-Fordist rump of freelance writers and curators, not to mention artists, whose dematerialised creativity is the surplus labour that translates into profits and a few jobs higher up the chain. With more of a stress on the impact of corporate censorship and political interference on independent cultural producers, the Artleaks collective has organised meetings in Berlin, Moscow and Belgrade and facilitates the outing of cases of injustice in the art world via their website.    


What has turned out to be the most radical experiment to date in incorporating occupiers into a mainstream art event was this summer’s instantly notorious Berlin Biennial 7. True to the motto Forget Fear, the 2012 edition opened up to the unpredictability of the occupy movements, giving over the main space of the KW Institute of Contemporary Art to a vivid recreation of a protest camp, complete with real activists from high-profile anti-austerity groups living on site.


That the curator had less than straightforward motives in inviting the occupiers was immediately suggested by the fact that the floor above was taken up with the work of a conservative sculptor and his project to create the largest statue of Jesus in Poland, while the top floor of the main venue housed a cacophony of video footage of unidentified protests from across the political spectrum, producing aesthetically motivated juxtapositions that annulled the political significance of the movement.


Along with his favourite tactic of placing people of opposing political views in a competitive context, the artist-curator also set about appropriating the new forms of protest in order to produce what was in effect a meta-art work by Artur Žmijewski. The press conference exemplified his strategy, with journalists and protesters drawn into creating a somewhat farcical simulacrum of an activist General Assembly complete with special hand signals and a ‘people’s mic’, techniques developed by protest movements to encourage horizontal communication.


What turned to be most interesting about the Berlin Biennial was not its wilful destructiveness, but the reaction of the occupy movements to finding themselves so thoroughly appropriated, and their attempt to turn the situation around. Within weeks of the opening, the occupiers began to turn on their hosts and rebel against conditions in the protest camp on the ground floor of the KW, which came to be known as ‘the human zoo’. Penned into a confined space and observed by the public from a viewing platform, ‘Berlin Square’ increasingly resembled a social experiment from Žmijewski’s own self-consciously exploitative art practice. Noah Fischer from the art-activist group Occupy Museums describes the biennial at this point as ‘a tomb where movements would come to die’, commenting that ‘rather than occupying, we were being occupied by the institution.’  


As the frustrations became intolerable, the activists decided to ‘address the power hierarchy of the zoo’, attempting to turn the tables on Žmijewski and his co-curator Joanna Warsza, and re-appropriate the Berlin Biennial for the movement. Challenging the curators ‘to go further into their stated concept of enabling a situation that they ‘don’t curate, supervise, or assess,’’ they proposed using the biennial as ‘a platform to apply horizontality, radical transparency and sharing labour’, with working groups rather than curators making all budgetary and programming decisions. Although details are hazy as to how far this experiment went in practice beyond agreeing to refer to the curators as ‘former-curators’, the neo-Maoist implications of such as a radical transformation of biennial management could herald the end of the art system as we know it.


Art institutions are indeed finding that it is not so easy to appropriate occupy as it was previous social movements or, for that matter, rebellious artistic avant-gardes, which historically have been swiftly incorporated into the gallery system. What was notable with the Berlin Biennial was that the curator, in his utter disregard for the interests of the art world, chose to invite hardcore activists that were primarily focussed on social and political struggles beyond the frame of contemporary art and who, incidentally, also disapproved of what they saw as attempts by art-activists to capitalise in a careerist sense on their participation in Berlin Square. At the same time, without the knowledge and more specific focus of groups such as Occupy Museums from New York, is it unlikely that the issues of art and power raised by the biennial would have been articulated so effectively.


Occupy Museums grew directly out of the wider Occupy Wall Street movement and continues to flourish in a more-dematerialised, post-square era. Their highest profile target has been the Museum of Modern Art, carrying out protests against its role as a symbol of the dominance of the interests of the mega-rich and position at the pinnacle of an art establishment that ‘resembles a pyramid scheme just like banks of Wall Street itself, where wealth and power flow up to the 1%.’ Art museums stand accused of acting like ‘corrupt ratings agencies’, holding shows to inflate the market value of ‘flimsy corporate art’ that they collect like ‘bundles of packaged debt,’ with personal conflicts of interest between those involved in the non-profit and private sectors an aggravating factor in the spread of art corruption.


Much as the Occupy Museums protests in New York have focused on MoMA, Tate has been a favourite target for art activists in the UK, notably the ongoing campaign led by Liberate Tate to force the institution to cut its ties to oil giant BP. In July 2012, the activists mobilised 100 people to carry a 1.5 tonne wind turbine blade across the Millennium Bridge and deposit it in the Turbine Hall, arguing that the work falls into the legal category of a ‘gift to the nation’ and must therefore be considered for the Tate Collection. Originating in an art-activist workshop led by John Jordan, previous Liberate Tate actions have also involved mini-oil slicks and dead fish, with the aim of drawing attention to the way the gallery promotes ‘the burning of fossil fuels by taking the poisoned ‘gift’ of funding from BP.’


Questions could also be raised about, for example, Tate accepting sponsorship for the Damien Hirst show from the Qatari royal family, who also happen to own the artist’s pill cabinet Lullaby Spring, bought in 2007 for a then record breaking £9.7m, and would therefore be beneficiaries of any inflation of market value provided by a triple-A rated museum show. What springs to mind is Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s relativistic answer to an American journalist’s question during the London Olympics about the contradictions of having a fast food giant as a sponsor, along the lines that you shouldn’t be too harsh on the sponsors, because ‘without them this event would not be possible.’


However, times are changing fast and this argument seem less convincing now than ever, with a model of the art world based upon the maintenance of unjust power relations in society appearing increasingly unsustainable. What is remarkable about the occupy phenomenon in contemporary art is that those who identify with it are not demanding an entrée into the artistic jet set; Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst - who in Michel Houellebecq’s parody of contemporary art The Map and the Territory are pictured dividing up the art market - are not their role models. There is a collective sentiment that it’s not worth compromising for the sake of sponsorship or keeping quiet in the hope that sooner or later you’ll be picked up by the system. The ambitions of the art occupiers lie not within existing power structures, but rather in creating something new in the spirit of the movement of the 99%. The future shape of an occupied art world, incorporating alternative models of artistic success, freed from the toxic effects of financial speculation and infused with the spirit of horizontal collectivism, is still open for discussion.


Maja and Reuben Fowkes


copyright 2005-12





CNN: 'Power': A digital election art gallery

(CNN) -- In 2011, as the world marked 10 years since 9/11, we asked artists around the globe to illustrate the ripple effects of the terrorist attacks. The result was "9/11 Ripple," CNN's first digital art gallery.With the 2012 elections approaching, we again wanted to include artists in our coverage of a major news event. Artists provide unique insight and provoke thought, conversation and community in a critical way and are especially vital during such important times for our country and our world. This time we chose the theme of "Power" for our digital art gallery. The theme represents not just the obvious power that's at stake in the election but the more subtle forces that power us as a people and drive our debate over money, health, race and gender -- often to the point of protest and gridlock. Explore the "Power" digital election art gallery We then reached out to a broad yet select group of artists representing different, influential perspectives in the art world and the broader community and asked them to submit work and participate in building the gallery with us. Our search began in the spring when we met Brad Downey, an exciting American performance artist who was in Atlanta for a collaboration withflux projects. After watching a presentation of his work -- which included videos of creative street art that many would call vandalism -- we asked if he'd be interested in contributing to "Power," the only caveat being that he couldn't vandalize anything. The work he submitted is provocative -- a photograph of a CCTV camera on a pole in Karl Marx Allee in Berlin that appears to be on fire. His statement for "CCTV Sacrifice" sums up his approach: "Some people say the world will end in fire, while others say it will end with ice. FREEZE, we are watching you!" (Downey promises us that nothing was damaged and no laws were broken in producing his work.) No less provocative is a video by Joe Hollier, "Era of Great Cynicism." Set to a syncopated jazz-era beat, his stop-motion animation is a commentary on individuality, beliefs, media influence, health care, elections and more. Noah Fischer, who took part in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York and initiated Occupy Subways and Occupy Museums, created "The Power of Gold." The video juxtaposes images of the Statue of Liberty with a rotating gold coin, and his statement explains his intentions: "The fear instinct tells us to grab what we need to survive ... yet we live in a nation that once took the goddess of freed slaves as its muse." Another video performance artist we're excited about featuring is Liz Magic Laser. Her "Push Poll" video, complete with actors, a focus group moderator and a pop-up newsroom in New York's Chinatown, "explores the power of polls to influence public opinion and the persuasive effects of the so-called 'man on the street' news segments." Other works include Seb Jarnot's "The War of Smiles," Molly Crabapple's "Big Fish Eat Little Fish Eat Big Fish" and Dorothy O'Connor's "Tornado." Jarnot, a French illustrator whose work has appeared in major publications and ad campaigns, took part in "Ripple." His work this year features "over-smiley portraits" of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, which he says represent "violence and power in a fight between ... two different energies." Crabapple's playful painting featuring fish is a "metaphor for revolution and counterrevolution" following the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements. And O'Connor's "Tornado" portrays a woman creating a destructive whirlwind in her home -- a symbol, she says, of the interplay of democracy, voters and corporate donors. This is only a taste of what you'll find in "Power," our effort to create a space in which different voices can be heard in ways other than words. We hope it will be thought provoking, and we invite you to join the conversation by posting your comments on the gallery.  

Haaretz: Go Because Everyone is Running


 (google translated from Hebrew)

On Sunday evening in the forest of Amminadab, was the artist and culinary custard Hadad above the silver tray on which were placed pieces of lamb, coarse bulgur, chopped mint and preserved lemon (or as he explained to guests out to Israel, occupied lemon). He mixed all the ingredients slowly.Haddad was in the midst of slow cooking workshop he gave a group of artists, curators, scholars and activists, who gathered on Thursday last week at the edge of Tel Aviv for a march to the capital a week old.

The purpose of the trip, which inaugurated the cultural season of Jerusalem, was to create a new space of time and place in which to develop a bush pilot, a culture of walking and meeting the people whose world does not necessarily allow them to meetings like this - slow encounters.

But the day after the date of departure, was arrested in Tel Aviv Daphne Leaf and social protest was sparked in March many tried to start. Arrest led to the organization, and organization led to a spontaneous demonstration on Saturday, during which police detained dozens of protesters, some violence. Among the immigrants went to Jerusalem and several activists from Israel in protest of the prominent social activists in the United States, artist Noah Fischer. After hesitating for a moment, they decided to turn back and join the protesters in Tel Aviv. Thus, coincidence or not, a member of one of the leaders of Wall Street Occupy the beginning of Israeli protests season.

Participants walk to Jerusalem
Participants walk to Jerusalem. Photo: Ilya Melnikov

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"I was impressed by the demonstration in Tel Aviv last weekend. Were there higher energies, more people Msharicho and the demonstration is not used by the rules - it's always a good way to start a demonstration," said Fisher told Haaretz ", as he sat exhausted on a mattress in the forest after drying another long, hot day journey. "People have crossed the lines invisible divide the space city, they entered the bank and got on the freeway, and I see this sign of protest has great power. We went on the road, even started to run towards Jerusalem, and in contrast to the demonstration was in New York, where we tried to block the Brooklyn Bridge and arrested more than 700 people, was here a very good sense of possibility to demonstrate ".

"I think it would be very difficult to stop the ball now," added Fisher. "Once you feel the freedom and power and begin to feel the options open, very difficult to stop the activity. It felt like a crazy dream - come to Israel and be a demonstration. Active movement which I completely shattered all my plans for my life," he said.

Fisher, 35, raised and educated in a Buddhist monastery in San Francisco. His father, Norman Fischer, is a Jewish rabbi - a Buddhist bell.His mother is not Jewish. Early 2000s came to Fisher, then a young man of 23, to find himself, as he describes, in Israel. "I came to Israel is a Jewish young man and very well trying to understand something about the meaning of life. One of the ways that were open to boys as I was coming here, to join the team, and get a piece of land in the West Bank. Promised me something very tempting, but in the end I said it did not. The day after I left the second intifada broke out. " He also stressed during his visit to present it violates cultural boycott of Israel, a fact that he has mixed feelings about it: "Since the beginning of the protest I feel that everything is in question, including the perception of Israel, and I try during my visit to see all sides of the fence and cross the dividing lines as much as possible" .

Noah Fischer to Jerusalem
Noah Fischer to Jerusalem. Photo: Ilya Melnikov

"This is a strange time, you can not talk more black and white. Facebook, for example, is a very effective protest movements, but also a way to extract personal information about individuals for marketing and selling and this is a way of controlling where your brain was directed perhaps daydreaming," he says.

When Fischer finished a master's degree in art at Columbia University in 2004, the art market was at its height. Artists broke sales records, Chinese collectors buy art in wholesale lots and new galleries have taken over key areas. But the art market also suffered a severe blow with the economic crisis beginning in 2008, as Fisher. He says: "I attended public school and was on track for success, and Cshsok collapsed, I was very disturbed about my role as an artist. I was exhausted and I have worked with business people who wanted to work with them. Then I realized I wanted to make art for money, but I do not want to stream it back the art world, but to bring her out. "

Way to the heart of protest began in the summer of 2011, Fisher was on Wall Street with a mask in the form of American currency (over) the face and threw hundreds of dollars to the street. Fisher and other activists managed to persuade people to donate money Bkixtartr (a common method for raising money online), designed to be discarded. They wanted to use the most sacred commodity in the United States and empty it of content.

This marked the young artist's way of life very different to the route he had dreamed about during his studies. At a later stage of the protest Fisher also founded the group "Conquer the museums", fighting injustice in the art world.

Joining the campaign connects, he says, a sense that capitalism forces us to practice fast and linear thinking - as a limit. This is also why this protest claim that the requirements are clear.

"The question 'What do you want?' Came from a bed of politicians to testify on what they want and nourish their own desires into the existing system. People have trouble understanding the movement of social protest world is the movement of a new generation and we decided not to submit to the dictates of the media and politics. Not impose limits on the movement, "he says.

The bubble is the problem

Movement action produces artistic and cultural discourse on borders and red lines. Artistic act of walking is done today by a number of known artists in the world where, Francis Alÿs, Shilpa Gupta, Matthew Buckingham and director Werner Herzog. Last year also took place in the country, sponsored by the Haifa Museum, "Jane's Walks" - walks around the city in memory of Jane Jacobs, one of the leading female thinkers on urban thinking. But walking is not only action that investigates space, it also becomes almost inevitable, slowly.

"One of the things that live neo - liberal offer is on a tight schedule," says Fisher. "City living ensures you always have to do and that produces a certain perception of our time. Also demonstrations there is a sense of urgency, but walking is not urgent and lets things develop organically. The surest way not to change anything is to decide on jurisdiction specific and then consume the media backing up your perspective and surround yourself with people who think like you. If you found your bubble, you can be sure that you are the problem ".

Fisher said that "what happens in this meeting of the group of people in that particular is different from, and it is similar to what happened in Occupy Wall Street. There were democrats, anarchists and even members of Ron Paul. Made sure there would be room for everyone. Also have here is a religious, artists Tel springs, fighters combat the former, Arabs, activists and journalists, and we have conversations in a very sincere and surprising. was here a guy who talked about things he did during his military service in Hebron. When I asked him if he did something unethical, he replied without hesitation, yes. such person I'm not used to meet, and such person, he did the things I and other visitors can learn a lot ".

Like the slow cooking movement that promotes Hadad, also walking produces a different ratio and even the target environment, and places emphasis on quality. "The slowdown is at least an interesting experiment," Fischer said with a smile. "When I return to New York, will come with new questions about my life and my activism - through activism may be slower."



Frieze: An Occupied Biennial




For the 7th Berlin Biennale Forget Fear, co-curators Artur Zmijewski and Joanna Warsza invited members from Occupy Movements around the world to take over the ground floor of the Kunst-Werke. How are the members fairing? Berlin-based critic Raimar Stange sat down to talk to Noah Fischer, an artist-activist based in New York. In addition to occupying Forget Fear, Fischer will be participating in this fall’s Steirischer Herbst festival in Austria.


Raimar Stange: Why is it interesting for the Occupy Movement to work in the context of the Berlin Biennale?


Noah Fischer: First of all, I’d just like to make it clear that these answers are my own opinions as an Occupy Museums member – I am not a spokesperson for the entire group.


The Occupy Movement is not fixed but rather constantly transforming and looking for new physical and intellectual spaces in which to spread our message. We actually develop the message and our new culture as we go. In the beginning, it was important to come together in city squares – in public space – and to develop a movement together ‘from the ground up’ which was autonomous from institutions.


In this way, we met each other somewhat outside of the persuasive framework of Neo-Liberalism and inside a space full of possibility. Then the initial public squares became less helpful – even corrupted – and eventually we lost them by force or through a withering away. But we also matured and refined the Occupy message about economic inequality in many new directions, for example in arts and culture with Occupy Museums and other groups.


People in these various groups began to experiment with a variety of tactics: new direct-action strategies and games in the streets, legal challenges to US laws or even engagement with media and institutions where allies had come forward. So the process has been open source and simultaneous: the Occupy Movement cannot afford to limit itself to a concept of political purity with absolute non-engagement. That’s what I mean when I say we’re part of a de-centered movement – a movement taking on a new post-1960’s model.


Personally, I feel that there is really no possibility to stand outside the economic disparity that we protest because this disparity is deeply structural. So, it makes sense to engage with institutions and go beyond ‘us and them‘, to experiment and to find solutions or steps forward here and there.


Last fall, at the height of Occupy Wall Street, Joanna Warsza came to New York and experienced the Movement just as it was forming into strong new groups. She saw some Occupy Museums actions in New York and asked me – without mentioning the Biennale – what would happen if an institution was willing to work together on our terms? I said that it would be a walk through the mud because obviously there are conflicts of interest in the form of power and financial hierarchies in all or most cultural institutions.


Yet I think there are two points that convinced the movement to work with the Berlin Biennale – after many meetings and discussions. Firstly, this cooperation represented a real sharing or offering of resources. The Biennale flew ten of our members from New York and had invited activists from movements all over the world as well. On a basic level, this exhibition was a chance to organize on a global level face to face – and that is what indeed happened.


Secondly, we knew that in some ways the Biennale represented an ideal art institution – at least from the American perspective. In the USA, the largest museums get about 15% of their funding from the government while the rest is corporate or comes from the super rich 1%. The private markets completely dominate our culture in the USA. Part of what we are fighting for is for art to be valued as part of the commons, as part of the shared treasures which support and are supported by society.


The Berlin Biennale is almost completely funded by the government, and we wanted to interact with this model, learn about it and see what was possible. It turned out to be very complicated politically, artistically, socially. I am now full of questions and also hope. We made new friends from international movements and helped to conduct an experiment with culture and politics that may lead to more good questions and to more action. We’ll see what happens next.


What do you see as the main difference between an activist and an artist?


Right now I am not interested in these definitions and actually don’t accept them. They must open up and change to be useful in the world we are in and we are heading towards. To what extent are these fields or identities defined by the Neo-Liberal system itself?


I used to call myself an artist – in the context of getting an MFA, working in academia, showing at galleries, art fairs, feeling part of art history. Then I entered into a people’s movement where the word ‘artist’ meant very little because creativity was everywhere, shared and initiated by many. We weren’t interested in the trappings of the market or in marketing our creativity, but rather in opening up the space for more creative action.


The same goes for activists. Of course, there is a particular specialized activist language and résumé. But in the movement context, I realized that everyone has a voice and can act autonomously and together, wandering in the direction of justice.



Photograph: Raimar Stange

What I am interested in now is the spark needed for action. When does a person who is deeply conditioned to produce and to consume make the move to go his or her own way? Or to join others in protest or in creating a new experimental culture? This illusive spark helped ignite Occupy, 15M and also movements in Cairo, Libya, Syria. Sometimes, people do reach a moment where long-held fears can dissolve, and I think this is also a creative state.


I don’t want to say that wisdom and experience should be ignored or that people who call themselves artists or activists should be shunned: not at all. The movement needs tools and strategies – people share them from their past efforts. These are the riches of the movement. But definitions need to be questioned – maybe we can even let them go in order to move on.


In the information age, we have a class of people who are specialists and ‘experts’ in politics, activism, art, economics, sports and many other fields. They comment and also reinforce a mental status quo regarding culture and political correctness. I’m interested in a naïve position that is more immediate but also highly autonomous and experimental – whereby I am able to act and to play in the world.


What was your best moment during the Berlin Biennale?


It has been a pleasure to be here with many special moments. Some were ‘high’ while others were quite low: down in the mud negotiating a way forward in communication and making mundane decisions together. These were also best moments for me.


Our action at the Pergamon Museum altar was also important. It was not an Occupy Museums action but rather planned by an international group, which included people from Spain, Poland, Russia, Poland and the USA who had met in Berlin. The action was responding to colonialism which is still a backdrop for cultural symbols internationally.


First, we created a fake university to gain free access to the museum for a large group. I played the professor for a class on the ancient roots of horizontalism. Once inside, we gathered on the alter and conducted a performance which included a song in ancient Greek sung by Joulia Strauss and played with a lyre accompaniment. We shouted statements, chanted and even burnt sage.


We were thrown out of the museum, but we went out chanting with our dignity intact. The police tried to detain us, but they had no grounds to do so as we were operating in collaboration with culture. We used the altar to send out messages and essentially to bless the movement. Our values of horizontalism and equality come in part from ancient Greece.


When you plan a creative direct action that is also a public disruption, you tend to get close to the people you’re working with. You find solidarity and trust. So the occupation of the Pergamon altar was also a node of unity between the international movement community – a node that was formalized and ceremonialized.


There was also a muddy process moment I’d like to mention: the ‘info-Com’ group at the Biennale. After the co-curators and the Biennale community agreed with our proposal to push the institution forward in a horizontal direction, we started some working groups, which consisted of movement members and staff from the Kunst-Werke, who were willing to try out the experiment – although it often means more work for them.


Although we are still conducting meetings to begin our cooperation, we are breaking down some barriers between the professional, the institutional, the activist and the movement. Our meetings have been respectful and quite functional. We’ve written a joint press release and started a newsletter which better represents the whole community in the Kunst-Werke space.


Our goal is to merge the whole media platform with the movement and institution including the website of the Biennale. There are of course moments of conflict in these meetings. But for me they prove that we can really work together and also that we care about the same things even though we might normally work on different sides of walls. For me, joining up and sharing is the whole point.


Financial Times: Frieze Art Fair Is Coming to Randall’s Island! So How the Hell Do You Get There?


Up until the announcement last spring that London’s Frieze Art Fair would be coming to New York for the first time, there were maybe five main reasons for a person to be on Randall’s Island: You are a high school student on an organized sports team—probably lacrosse or track or, perhaps, soccer—and you are utilizing the island’s athletic fields for practice; you have tickets to Electric Zoo or Cirque du Soleil; you like golf, but you do not want to leave the city to play it; you are a patient at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on the adjoining Wards Island; you are John McEnroe, it is 2010 and you are inaugurating the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at the Sportime Randall’s Island Tennis Center.


Frieze, which runs May 4-7, is now on New York’s home turf, but Randall’s Island feels a long way from Chelsea, or even the Upper East Side, even though that neighborhood is connected to the island by the Wards Island Footbridge, which is sea foam green, intriguingly Art Deco and, somewhat inconveniently for Frieze, closed for construction until later this summer.

There’s something ever so slightly off about the island. During a visit there last week, I saw high school students jogging past patients from the psychiatric center who were out for an afternoon walk accompanied by attendants. For every sign that says “Golf Center,” there’s one that says “Neurochemistry.” That attractive white brick, Roman-style building over by where the island connects to Queens? It turned out to be a sewage treatment plant. From Harlem, I walked across the RFK Bridge, which deposited me behind the driving range in a tangle of barbed-wire fencing beneath the shadow of the overpass. There were rust-covered dumpsters, old bleachers, unattached snowplows and more dumpsters. The Frieze tent, glossy and bright and snaking along the Harlem River, is located at the end of a service road. I’d come out to Randall’s Island in part to catch a glimpse of the Frieze tent while it was under construction, but also just to figure out how one gets there. I’ve lived in New York for seven years and, like a lot of New Yorkers, I’ve never had any cause to go to Randall’s Island.

I was also looking for a rat. Before going out to the island, I saw that The Art Newspaper’s website published a photograph of a giant inflatable rat, a symbol of union protests, installed at the Frieze tent’s construction site. The week before my trip, the New York District Council of Carpenters—an organization used by New York’s other major fairs, the Armory Show and the ADAA Art Show—announced a labor dispute with Frieze. The fair, so they claimed, was not using any of the local signatory contractors that employ the council. Not long after that, members of Occupy Wall Street announced a plan for a protest in front of the fair because, as Noah Fischer, one of the founders of Occupy Museums told me, “Frieze is a sort of hyper commercialized spectacle for the art economy” (the group also staged a small protest in front of the Armory Show, in March). Frieze denied that it was in a labor dispute with anyone. So what accounted for the photo of the rat?

Usually, when a New York art dealer has to cross water to get to an art fair, it’s because they’re in Basel. Or Paris, strolling along the Pont Alexandre III to the Grand Palais, for FIAC. There’s something almost more exotic about an island no one goes to in the East River with a giant asylum sitting in the middle of it.

“What we tend to do when we’re involved in a local New York fair is not going to work,” said dealer Jane Cohan, who runs the James Cohan Gallery with her husband, when I called her the day after my trip. “We tend to split our days. We figure there’s more people in New York and more people coming to the gallery and we want to be there for that. But with Frieze that’s not going to work logistically. It’s going to be a longer trip. We’ll have to come up with a different rotating system of sales associates.”

“I went out there yesterday on foot,” I said.

“Really?” she said. “Across the Triboro Bridge? That must have been an experience. I once walked across the George Washington Bridge but it was 4 in the morning and I was 17. Somehow, I don’t think a lot of our clients are going to do that.”

Chances are the Horts and Rubells of the world will probably not be walking across any bridges. Holders of the fanciest of Frieze’s VIP tickets—the one that gets you in at 11 a.m.—will have access to BMW sedans that will shuttle them from the island to wherever in Manhattan they need to go. Each car is equipped with sound installations by Martin Creed, Rick Moody and Frances Stark, which a press release from BMW boasts “will make the journey to Randall’s Island more enchanting.” (Reading this made me think of the empty vial covered in cocaine residue that I saw on the ground while walking across the bridge.) A Frieze spokesperson told me a ride from the BMW fleet will probably have to be booked in advance.

As a journalist, my own VIP card gets me in only as early as 2 p.m. Frieze will be running its own bus from the 4,5,6 train stop at 125th Street in Harlem, as well as a ferry that leaves every 15 minutes from East 35th Street. The other option is to take the M35 bus, which is basically a shuttle from Harlem. I took it on a second trip last week. With the exception of the guy sitting next to me who kept nodding off on my shoulder, it wasn’t an unpleasant ride. Still, it’s amusing to imagine Larry Gagosian—or even most art journalists—in a fit of desperation taking public transportation.

“I’m wondering at what point people will raise enough of a fuss that they’ll have to start having helicopter shuttles from Chelsea to the island,” said Alex Provan, a founder of Triple Canopy who will have a booth at Frieze. It’s the organization’s first art fair and it was given a booth for free because of its nonprofit status (as was White Columns; the Occupy Museums people weren’t aware of this when I spoke to them. One of them responded angrily, “We don’t think these small gestures work,” and then didn’t really elaborate.) Mr. Provan, whose organization doesn’t have the financial resources of a commercial gallery, said, “Hopefully most of the dealers that can afford to do Frieze can afford cab fare.”

“Helicopter,” the dealer Andrew Kreps responded quickly when I asked him how he was getting out to the island. He was joking, but I bet we can expect a lot of Frieze-related helicopter jokes in the coming weeks. I can think of more than a few art world machers who would likely consider it the most practical mode of transport, given that the island is a little too close to Teterboro to get to by private jet, never mind the lack of runway. “It’s hard to believe,” Mr. Kreps continued, “but I’ve actually been there before. For like a weird camp reunion thing. A touch football kind of deal. It’s really not that hard, I know people might think that sounds crazy. You just go up the FDR and you go over a bridge and you’re there. I know it’s intimidating, but it’s actually a pretty amazing place.”

“Do you have a car?” I asked.

“I was just gonna take a taxi,” he said. “I’m lacking a driver.”

Bridget Donahue, a director at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, reiterated this point to me when she said “I think since we’re all New Yorkers, we’re just assuming we’ll get in a yellow cab.” As far as I can tell, most cabs have less of a problem going to Randall’s Island than they do to, say, Brooklyn, so long as you agree to pay the $6.50 bridge toll. But Oliver Newton, co-owner of the gallery 47 Canal—who is one of the lucky exhibitors with his own car—conjured a truly horrifying image: “What worries me is the situation at the end of the fair, when everyone is trying to leave at once.”  Then again, that nightmare scenario may be mitigated by people like dealer James Fuentes, who lives downtown near the East River and plans to take his bike.

For now, getting on and off the island is relatively painless. On Tuesday a group of around 20 journalists got on a yellow water taxi at 35th Street with Frieze cofounders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover. Tea was served, and everyone headed for the top deck and started snapping photos of Manhattan. “I really like this trip,” Ms. Sharp said to me as we passed the Upper East Side. “It’s very seductive.” When we arrived at the construction site, security guards made us put on neon-yellow vests that said FRIEZE ART FAIR. Mine didn’t really fit over my jacket.

Last week on one of my trips out there, after scouring the art fair grounds looking to no avail for the inflatable rat, I found myself waiting at the bus stop near the parking lot (this is as good a time as any to say that the lot fits about 1,500 cars). The bus comes roughly four times an hour in the afternoon. A yellow cab with its light on pulled up instead and stopped. I looked around, hesitated slightly, and then jumped in.

“Do you take a lot of fares to Randall’s Island?” I asked the driver.

“Things happen,” he said coldly. “You take a lot of cabs from bus stations on Randall’s Island?” That was the end of that conversation. The cab back to Midtown took 20 minutes and cost $25.92, with a 20 percent tip.

As for the inflatable rat, it turns out that by the time I got there it was long gone. I found out later from a Council of Carpenters representative that the protest symbol was basically a photo-op, installed for a few hours and swiftly taken down after someone called security. There weren’t a lot of people around to see it anyway.


Camera Austria/BB7: Occupy a Museum Near You


from the website of the 7th Berlin Biennial


Joanna Warsza and Florian Malzacher: You are the initiator of the Occupy Museums group, associated with Occupy Wall Street. First you organised a protest march to MoMA, and later you occupied the New Museum and other art institutions run by the 1 %. You staged a general assembly in front of the museums, to read your manifesto where the injustices of the arts and culture system are listed. When the director of MoMA asked what it is that you wanted, you replied that you had no demands. “But,” you said, “we would continue to occupy the museum in order to open up a conversation about economic injustice and abuse of the public values for the gain of the 1 % in the art world.” Why shall we occupy museums?

Noah Fischer: Occupy Museums is a collective, which runs by consensus. I initiated the first Occupy Museums action in October 2011. Our group formed soon after that. Every action and official text we create is authored by all of us, and we don’t have a single leader. Functioning in solidarity is the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement. We are trying to forget about the drive toward individualism and hierarchy, which is so much a part of the capitalistic regime. We also believe in individual autonomy. First I want to make it clear that these are my own opinions; I can’t speak for the whole Occupy Museums group.


So, why do we Occupy Museums? Today museums are an important part of the neo-liberal system, which we are protesting on Wall Street. Museums are like temples of this system, actually; they reproduce the logic of the system, reify its symbols, and are financially dependent on it. Actions by Occupy Museums are about opening up a very large, honest, transformative conversation about the presence of money and power in the world of art and culture.


And why museums but not private galleries? Because museums hold cultural authority and carry out a supposedly purely public function that galleries and art fairs do not have. Currently, the main art-world paradigm in the US is a private market of artists that are represented by a hierarchy of galleries, and these galleries want to get their artists into the Whitney Biennial or the New Museum or, eventually, into the Museum of Modern Art. Therefore, an artist’s career and markets are built up through the cultural authority of the museums. Nothing else counts but your symbolic and financial position, and museums have the power to shape this. The problem is that, just like on Wall Street, the wealthiest 1 % control nearly everything. They engage in philanthropy, of course, and sit on museum boards, and these are often also the mega-collectors who influence the markets. Actually, the whole arts infrastructure has been organising around these few individuals in the last 30 years. They concentrate political power and social prestige in their hands, perhaps even more than money, if this is possible. But real, essential culture needs distance from this power and influence in order to grow and thrive, otherwise culture becomes a luxury commodity. What will hopefully come out of the Occupy Museums is a re-thinking about the current state of culture, which is very close to a luxury item for the wealthiest. How can we reconnect our work as artists to the experience of ordinary people—the 99 %? We have already found a way to connect as artists to the spirit of protest in the air. For the first stage we are publicly defining cultural injustices—inviting people to call them out in open assemblies at the museums. A lot of information about the corruption and conflicts of interest on museum boards arises from the participants in these assemblies. But maybe the most important thing Occupy Museums is doing is publically demonstrating, through solidarity, that we artists need not be silenced by these powerful institutions that wield so much cultural authority, just because the 1 % sits on their boards. We are learning not to fear, but to act.


The first museums you went to were MoMA and the National History Museum. Why these two?


MoMA is an iconic New York museum, because it is “the one and only” Museum of Modern Art. And New York is a city that is supposed to have made its name on the international stage through modern art. MoMA, therefore, is very much a temple, a holy space where the local gods such as Pollock and Newman dwell. It is also transparently financially corrupted. Two MoMA trustees, James Niven and Richard Oldenberg, also have connections to the board of Sotheby’s. These trustees help to inflate prices in the art auctions, and they presumably have some vote or influence about what is shown in the museum. This simultaneous conflict of interest should be unacceptable and considered as abuse, but in the US now, it’s become accepted—we also see it in the revolving door between the US government and the biggest corporations such as banks. But people would be surprised to find these problems associated with museums, even though the art market is extremely unregulated. And it is precisely because MoMA is iconic and also beloved and trusted by many that Occupy Museums decided to go after it and make it into an example. We are going straight to the top, “storming the temple”. In fact, we do not really occupy physical places—we rather occupy people’s consciousness, symbols.


But the Natural History museum is not specifically related to art.


Here we focused on the potential menace of philanthropy. We occupied the Dino­saur wing in the American Museum of Natural History, whose patron, David H. Koch, is the second richest person in New York and a major funder of the ultra right-wing in the US. For this action, we were talking to visitors at the Museum about the ideology associated with his “gifts”. David H. Koch has been the primary funder of the Tea Party, right-wing think tanks, and numerous initiatives which try to negate global warming. Often he has censored climate information in the exhibitions that he sponsors. His father, who built the family fortune, was also a right-wing ideologue in the McCarthy era who used the threat of communism to create a political platform full of racism and bigotry—this is actually the pre-history of the Tea Party. We also discussed how the funding of culture is often used to clean the image of those that make dirty money (Koch makes his money from the oil and energy business, and his companies are known for polluting). At the Museum of Natural History, we created a series of performances followed by a discussion of what alternative models of philanthropy might look like, such as more government support or support from many smaller contributions. Obviously, we are just beginning this discussion.


When the director of MoMA came to talk, you refused. Why? Aren’t you interested in a productive dialogue?


For the first action, we held a General Assembly meeting in front of MoMA and read a manifesto, and then the director and a couple other staff members came down to meet us. They were very nice and said that they support the movement to some extent and asked why we were there. I answered very much in line with the manifesto, that we believe that MoMA is the temple of the 1 %, and our aim is to challenge this concentration of power and wealth, which is crippling our culture and futures as artists. They were surprised and asked for our demands. I said we have no demands, but we are going to continue occupying their museum, which in this case means repeatedly coming back and enlarging the conversation until it is much more visible and spread out. Actually, for a long time, the press kept asking for demands of the Occupy Wall Street movement. So far it has been very helpful for the movement to not have demands. As soon as you have demands, you’re asking those with power to change something finite (a few things), when many feel that the problem is structural. Without demands, we focus more on developing our voice autonomously and building our movement’s solidarity, which is the base of our power. The problems of economic injustice are so big that starting out in a negotiation mode does not make sense.


Later on you also did an action at Lincoln Center in New York …


That was our most triumphant action! The Lincoln Center, supported by David H. Koch and New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg, is a potent symbol of the privatisation of public space and an abuse of cultural authority. As we stated in the press release for the action, “it is no doubt a coincidence that Philip Glass’ opera ‘Satyagraha’, which depicts Gandhi’s early struggle against colonial oppression in India, was revived in the revolutionary 2011. We immediately saw a glaring contradiction in ‘Satyagraha’ being performed while in recent weeks protestors from Occupy Wall Street have been arrested. The juxtaposition was stark. While Bloomberg funds the representation of Gandhi’s pioneering tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience in the Metropolitan Opera House, he simultaneously orders a paramilitary-style raid on the peaceful public occupation of Liberty Park, where protestors are beaten, tear-gassed, and violently arrested.” So, one evening, hundreds of protesters assembled on the steps of Lincoln Center, blocked off from the plaza by police barricades. A few who dared to cross the line were arrested, provoking shouts of “shame, shame, shame!” We took off our shoes—a Gandhian symbol of dignity—and stood barefoot on the cold pavement, conducting our assembly. When the opera ended and the opera audience exited into the plaza, they came upon this strikingly theatrical scene—real, live, non-violent protest, barefoot on the grand steps! Some protesters were chanting “We are the 99 %”, which may have contributed to a sense of separation between these two parallel crowds. Our presence behind the police barricades somehow paralysed the opera audience, making them hesitant to flow toward us, even as we called them to join. Then all of a sudden Philip Glass popped up in the Occupy Wall Street crowd—he had come to read a statement using the “people’s microphone”. He called out the last lines of the opera, a passage from the “Bhagavad Gita”:


When righteousness withers away  /  And evil rules the land /  We come into being / Age after age / And take visible shape / And move / A man among men / For the protection of good / Thrusting back evil / And setting virtue / On her seat again.


In that moment the opera audience had joined us. The buffer zone was gone. We were now one big crowd. Until late into the night we held our general assembly and many people spoke—opera singers who had been recently fired by Lincoln Center in its neo-liberal war against workers, and also Lou Reed was there to express his support.


Occupy Museums is very careful of not being co-opted by any institution. You refuse any collaboration, even if this is how you could reach out.


Since the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, co-option has been a major concern, because neo-liberal capitalism knows very well that the best way to kill protest movements is to absorb them into the existing market and to dissolve them or use them for advertising purposes. If we started to negotiate with MoMA, they might say, “You may use the first floor for a special General Assembly, we’ll put it on the website.” In this way, they might try to throw us a bone before they deal with critique we raise. And then while negotiating, we might have our ego pumped and feel special because these famous gatekeeping institutions have opened their gates for us just a little.


It is of course not so black and white because many people who are in the movement work for art institutions; some are even powerful curators, critics, and well-known artists. We of course also need to find allies to change structures of the institutions from the inside. The question is how to proceed in this while keeping our clarity of critique? Now we are re­flecting deeply on how we may interact with institutions, which are just groups of people, to develop and apply our vision of economic justice, but being very mindful of how we proceed.


I feel that before we join the people who run the museums, we should join in solidarity with the wider communities of New York City—artists and art lovers who are not so privileged. New York City has the same wealth disparity as Honduras. It is one of the richest and the most class-divided cities in the world. It has not much of a middle class, but a lot of very wealthy and a lot of very poor people. It also has many extremely rich artists and a vast number of poor artists. Tourists visit the galleries in Chelsea and don’t understand that they are in one of the poorest cities in the US, with the poverty hidden in the outskirts. Those are the economic and racial barriers, which have been built up for generations, that we have to break. It’s the key part of the process for real change. We must bring together wider communities that usually do not hang out together in the art world, and change the class and race segregation that we see in culture, even if this takes lots of work and lots of time.


And why not reach out to the 1,000 people who are coming to the Natural History Museum every day anyway? Or the daily visitors of MoMA? Those are the ready-made audiences.


The museum-going audience is always invited to take part in our actions. As we saw at Lincoln Center, their decision as a group to join the protest gave our action much of its strength. So we are definitely outreaching and engaging with this existing art-audience, too. But we are careful to maintain our stance as activists. We can engage an audience, but we don’t force people—it has to be their choice. Look how people consume culture as a product. That’s this “consumerist subconscious” which homogenises and unites the whole reality under the logo of a consumable product. I think our job is to stay awake and critical, to keep the tension of the moment going, and people will join us.


If you were the director of MoMA, what would you do in these circumstances?


It would be cool for the MoMA director to join us in an open conversation with our group. Curators at MoMA are used to having their asses kissed by artists, but maybe they would be interested in a new dynamic where everyone is equal, where people are focused on justice and mass consciousness rather than just on individual competitive gain? They could join the discussion, because then we could find out—outside the power relations—what they think as individuals. Many people want to see big changes in our world—I’m sure some museum directors do, too. We all need to get started, so they could begin by meeting us if they want. There is nothing stopping them—our group is open.


So what must institutions that would like to join be prepared to face?


They’d have to be ready to step into the mud. They’d have to be ready for a long, uncomfortable conversation. Our movement calls to question the structure of the museum boards and the flow of capital itself within culture. It calls on everyone to study their own privilege and work together to change a world that is so divided by access to money and power. We have to unlearn lots of capitalist conditioning to be able to work together. We have to spend a really long time with these conversations, be ready to fail, stay away from the easy traps of market-friendly shows and celebrity artists that we think everyone wants. We need to practice transparency and fairness in our working process. We should be aware that power and hierarchy are always to be found in human society. We have to challenge it. If we do not experiment and get messy, we cannot start finding answers. We cannot make demands right now—we need to change our minds first, then we can create a parallel economy with freedom rather than oppression as a basis.


Forty years ago the Art Workers’ Coalition, an association of artists, filmmakers, writers, critics, and museum personnel successfully put pressure on New York City’s museums—notably the Museum of Modern Art—to implement various reforms. For instance, they sought a less exclusive exhibition policy, one that should include women artists and artists of colour, and they emphasised the importance of taking a moral stance on the Vietnam War. Moreover, the coalition prevailed on MoMA and other museums to implement a free-admission day that still exists in many institutions. Is it an inspiration?


Yes, and there are other good examples of artists in this tradition, like the Russian Constructivists, the Mexican Muralists, Act Up, and so on. But the Art Workers’ Coalition is very important. In fact, we recently re-occupied MoMA on one of the free nights which are called “Target Free Fridays”. Target is a large US retailing corporation, and everyone thinks that this company invented the idea of free museum days. One goal for this action was to let people know that artists (Art Workers’ Coalition) invented it, that there is a history of artists standing up for the 99 %; and another was to stand in solidarity with a group of union workers. There is an art handlers’ union, which works for Sotheby’s auction house. Sotheby’s was trying to take away their health-care and cut their pay, and when they tried to negotiate, Sotheby’s locked them out of work. So, since MoMA has a close relationship with Sotheby’s, we occupied MoMA to put some pressure on the board members to support the workers. We held a general assembly in front of Diego Rivera’s show and read a revolutionary text signed by Rivera and André Breton in 1938. We held an assembly with hundreds of artists in the main atrium of MoMA where a huge banner was displayed that stated “When Art Is Just a Luxury, Art Is a Lie!” This time, MoMA left us alone. I think that kicking out a bunch of artist activists on a free night initiated by artist activists (Art Workers’ Coalition) would have been a public relations disaster for the museum. For a couple of hours, we transformed MoMA into a forum for active discussion about money and labour in the art world.


The whole interview with Noah Fischer is published in „Camera Austria International“ No 117 (Graz/Berlin), guest edited by Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza. See also www.camera-austria.at.


Artnet: Occupy MoMA by Barbara Pollack

On Friday night, Jan. 13, 2012, a trumpet sounded outside the Museum of Modern Art at exactly 6 pm and a banner was unfurled by its front door, announcing the presence of Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Museums, a working group of OWS, had decided to take advantage of Free Fridays at the museum and enter the premises for a well-organized teach-in. It was a band of approximately 20 participants -- a group that included professional arts activists like Creative Time curator Nato Thompson, Queens College art professors Greg Shollette and Maureen Connor, and Jim Costanza, a founder of the once-active collective Repo History.

"What would Diego have said?" asked one. Among the answers was a demand to end the lockout of Teamsters Local 814, the Sotheby's art handlers, who have been on the picket line for the past four months. Then, a speaker stepped forward to read Rivera's own manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art, co-authored with André Bretonin 1938.Once inside the museum, they quickly collected in front of The UprisingDiego Rivera’s 1931 painting of a labor demonstration that shows a soldier and a worker being separated by a woman cradling an infant (a picture that MoMA has used throughout the subway system to advertise its Rivera exhibition). Someone shouted "mike check" and the protesters immediately formed a human microphone, Zuccotti Park-style.

"We can say without exaggeration that never has civilization been menaced as seriously as today," starts the manifesto, sounding a bit like a parody of contemporary Republican talking points. The chant-reading and repeating continued for ten minutes, providing a rousing accompaniment to the Diego Rivera murals in the gallery. The performance was made all the more visceral by the guards hovering just a few feet away and surrounding the group. Some museum visitors joined in while others kvetched, "Are you done yet?"

But Occupy Museums wasn't done yet. It went from the Rivera exhibition down the hall to the museum café, where the group continued to harp on the Sotheby's lockout and MoMA’s ties to the auction house. According to Occupy Museums, two MoMA boardmembers -- director emeritus Richard Oldenburg and Sotheby’s auctioneer James G. Niven -- are also on the board of Sotheby's, along with restauranteur Danny Meyer, who operates the museum cafes.

Artist Noah Fischer, who launched Occupy Museums in October, shouted to diners that they would not be so comfortable eating if they knew about the situation at Sotheby's. The waiters applauded. "It's all interconnected," said "Alex" from the OWS Labor working group. "It's very incestuous."

The protest then moved into the museum atrium, where, beneath Sanja Ivekovic's soaring Lady Rosa of Luxembourg obelisk, the protestors called for a "general assembly." Flyers fluttered down from above and Occupy Museums members hung a banner from the fifth floor balcony, reading, "If Art Insists on Being a Luxury, It Will Also Be a Lie," a quote from Albert Camus. Charges against MoMA were made repeatedly, including the perfectly true if inflammatory claim that "MoMA sells its art through Sotheby's."

Still, the protest held the attention of the museum audience, which surrounded the group and watched from above. MoMA did a good job of exercising restraint, allowing the action to continue unimpeded, rather than risk any kind of publicity disaster.

In the past two decades, “political protest” has become almost routine at our museums, as curators commission such work in the name of "participatory art" and "relational esthetics." Museums have long been subject of political analysis, from the Art Workers Coalition to Hans Haacke, the Guerrilla Girls, Andrea Fraser and many others. As for Occupy Museums, it’s not hard to dismiss its earnest activity as a tired rehash of longstanding objections to the corporatization of American art institutions.

(In fact, as Occupy Museums itself noted, in the 1970s the Art Workers Coalition staged protests at the museum to criticize the connections of MoMA boardmembers with the military industrial complex, to demand the removal of Nelson Rockefeller from the board for his bloody handling of the Attica prison uprising, and to demand free hours at the museum. MoMA responded by establishing Free Fridays, now Target Free Friday Nights. Occupy Museums noted that the public pays a price when Target gets free advertising.)

Unlike many of its predecessors, however, the Occupy Museums protest was straightforward and political, not “dressed up” as an art event. And as it drew to a close, it was clear that Occupy Museums raises important questions. Why, for instance, does our highly developed art scene ignore important issues of financial and social justice yet deliver up spot paintings to great acclaim? Why cannot museums function as contemporary commons, rather than as reputation-laundering facilities for hedge-fund managers and corporations?

MoMA spokesperson Kim Mitchell was on hand at the event on Friday, with a worried look on her face. "Our official position is no comment," she said. Meanwhile, Occupy Museums is waiting to hear about the fate of its banner, confiscated by museum guards. "If they agree to our conditions, we will let the museum acquire it for the permanent collection," said one member. He wasn't talking about money. He was asking for the museum to take action.

If you want to restore your sense that change is possible in the art world, I recommend that you check out Occupy Museums on Facebook (and keep an eye out for its dedicated website, scheduled to open soon). If you're too cold or old to come out to an action, or if you own a Damien Hirst, just pass this information on.

BARBARA POLLACK is author of The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic's Adventures in China(Timezone 8 Books).


Art in America: Occupy Museums Targets MoMA trustees

by brian boucher 01/17/12

On Friday, The Museum of Modern Art was once again targeted by Occupy Museums, bringing their protest inside the building on a bitterly cold evening. Occupy Museums has staged a number of demonstrations since October; this was a homecoming of sorts, since the first protest took place at MoMA.

Over the two-hour event, protesters, ranging in number from one to several dozen, led a group discussion about art, capitalism and class struggle in the galleries devoted to the exhibition "Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art," and held a general assembly in the second-floor atrium. They were joined by representatives of the Arts and Labor Group of Occupy Wall Street, artists' group 16 Beaver and Occupy Sotheby's.

The main thrust of the occupiers' complaints was that two MoMA board members, James Niven and Richard E. Oldenburg, are also involved with Sotheby's (as a vice chairman and consultant, respectively), which has locked out its unionized art handlers over a contract dispute. A representative of OWS Labor Outreach (who gave his name only as "Alex") proclaimed in the Rivera exhibition, "The fact that MoMA will show Diego Rivera while breaking labor is a disgrace." Noah Fischer, the artist who is the main organizer of Occupy Museums, repeatedly asserted that Sotheby's has spent more on locking the workers out than it would have on their wages.

Friday's protest aimed at a more specific and relevant target than some of the group's previous actions. Occupy Museums was widely derided in the blogosphere at its inception, partly due to the Khmer Rouge undertones of Fischer's call to action, which opened, "The game is up: we see through the pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism controlled by the 1%." Their second protest, after beginning at MoMA, was to proceed to the Frick Collection, to criticize union-buster Henry Clay Frick, whom they called "the worst CEO in history." This was greeted online by a collective shrug.

In the Rivera galleries, protesters distributed, and partially read aloud, a 1938 text signed by Rivera and Andre Breton, titled "Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art." Security guards interceded only to prevent photography, which is prohibited in special exhibitions. Protesters asserted loudly in the crowded galleries that art is not a luxury item, but rather part of the commons, the inheritance of all people.

Creative Time curator Nato Thompson, a participant in the protest, pointed out that while The New York Times was slow to cover Occupy Wall Street, it was fascinated with the Egyptian revolution. He saw a similar phenomenon in MoMA's exhibition of Rivera: "Rivera can be abstracted from the present. Would he really want us to passively enjoy his murals? If you really love this show you'll get off your ass and overthrow your boss!"

The occupiers chose MoMA's Free Fridays, which are sponsored by Target, partly for historical reasons: free public hours grew out of demands by the Art Workers' Coalition, a group of artists protesting war and capitalism in the sixties. "It's now branded as free Target day," said Rene Gabri, an artist representing 16 Beaver. "It's absurd."

Christopher Kelly, visiting New York City with his family from the upstate village of Painted Post, engaged the protesters with pointed questions: Why is Target suddenly so evil? Doesn't someone have to pay the guards, and to keep the lights on? And doesn't someone always have the power when money is involved? "But brands destroy art," Thompson rebutted. Another protestor called out, "But everything today has become a commodified product."

During a general assembly in the second-floor atrium, currently home to the show "Sanja Iveković: Sweet Violence," protesters briefly hung a banner from a fifth-floor walkway. It read, in part, "Hang art, not workers. End your lockout." The protesters cheered, then broke out into smaller groups to discuss, as Gabri suggested, "What kind of resistance will be necessary to alter the trend of corporatization of public institutions, including art institutions?"

Various suggestions were floated, such as art historian Ben Young's recommendation to use sympathetic spaces such as New York's ABC No Rio, a center for activism; another demonstrator called attention to the threat of tuition being charged at Cooper Union. But soon enough, it was 8 P.M., closing time, and the protesters made their way out of the museum along with the rest of its visitors.

Visitor reactions varied. "Some of us came to see the art," one woman huffed in the Rivera galleries. Christopher Kelly's 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, was optimistic. "As long as they stay organized," she predicted about the protesters, "they'll go far."


Teamster Nation: Sotheby's Teamsters take action against Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York last night got Occupied again -- by Teamsters from Local 814, Occupy Wall Street, museumgoers, artists, arts enthusiasts and culture activists.

The groups gathered outside of the multimillion-dollar exhibition of Diego Rivera's legendary murals and disrupted museumgoers' quiet viewing experience.

Organizer Noah Fischer addressed the crowd, giving them an alternative interpretation of Rivera's art: 


Work by Rivera.

They're not miracles of art. They're works.

The action was chiefly the effort of Occupy Museums, an Occupy Wall Street working group that fights against the influence of the 1% in the arts. As outspoken supporters of the locked-out Teamsters, Occupy Museums activists fight the "Sotheby's economy" -- a system of elite influence that works to "support" the arts with one hand, then grabs at its profit with the other.

MoMa deals with Sotheby's, which threw 43 art handlers out of work because they demanded a fair standard of living from the mega-rich employer.

The visit followed the action last Friday, when Occupy Museums took to MoMa in collaboration with labor activists from Occupy Sotheby's (who had last been seen getting jostled in the picket line clashduring the Nov. 9 auction.

Felix Cardinal, an art handler of 4 years who came to MoMa assembly, said he appreciated Occupy Wall Street's support:

We know that OWS can take action and walk the walk, but now I'm even more impressed by this level of conversation taking place. I'm inspired that people who seriously care about art are doing something to help our cause, that this issue stretches way beyond just Sotheby's.

Rivera's works, which depict scenes of life, labor and inequality in the new industial world, were commissioned in part by corporate mogul and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller. When he saw that they depicted a pro-worker message, Rockefeller wouldn't let the work remain on display in 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Arts activist Ariel Lugo pointed out that the exhibit's success resulted from art handlers' skill:

The art handlers who installed this exhibit had their work cut out for them, because these murals were painted on cement. They were painted on cement because Rivera thought they'd be shown in a public space, not in a museum with corporate-subsidized admission.

Harrison Magee, a member of Occupy Sotheby's, said: 

Rivera wouldn't have wanted his paintings here. His works stood for the interests of working people, whose voices are being silenced everywhere.

As Sotheby's enters a new auction season having once again broken sales records in the fall, they have still yet to reach a fair agreement with the Teamsters union. Estimates predict that the lockout has by now cost the company more money than they would have spent over the course of the 3-year contract as proposed by the union. with new parts of the movement now getting involved, OWS is throwing the weight of the 99% back into the fight to end the lockout.

Posted by Teamster Power at 9:20 AM 


Art in America: Art and the 99&

By Erin Sickler

Who really runs and most profits from the current art system.  Not 99% of artists and not 99% of the general public, now forced to pay ever-escalating museum admission fees to gaze at contemporary artworks they could never afford...

Read article here: 



The New Criterion:Commune plus one

They were madmen, but they had in them that little flame which never dies.
—Pierre-Auguste Renoir


The Museum of Modern Art is far from a blameless institution. For all the brilliance of its permanent collection or the triumphs of its special exhibitions, the museum has built itself into a fortress of modernism. Its over-expanded campus now conveys all the joys of an airport terminal. From the modernist evangelism of its Rockefeller beginnings, the museum has come to resemble a corporate juggernaut eager for its next leveraged buyout, with one adjacent building after the other falling under its control. As a zealous acquisition program continues to add to its holdings, its legal team fights off Holocaust restitution claims made on its collection. Then there is MOMA’s director, Glenn D. Lowry, who lives rent-free in a $6-million apartment in the museum’s residential tower while collecting aCEO-level payment package topping several million dollars a year in salary, trust income, and other benefits. For anyone concerned about the legacy of this institution, these numbers are impossible to reconcile against a faltering economy and the museum’s ever-rising admission price, which recently increased to a mandatory twenty-five dollars.

When a division of Occupy Wall Street set out to “Occupy Museums” on October 20, the Occupationists knew they had an easy target in moma. Yet like the Occupy movement in general, this particular protest made little attempt to expose new details of the museum’s operations or to promote realistic institutional reform. Led by an artist named Noah Fischer, who often wears a mask shaped like a large quarter, the Occupationists instead outlined their position through a manifesto. “The game is up,” they declared:

we see through the pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism controlled by the 1%. No longer will we, the artists of the 99%, allow ourselves to be tricked into accepting a corrupt hierarchical system based on false scarcity and propaganda concerning absurd elevation of one individual genius over another human being for the monetary gain of the elitest of elite. . . . The Occupywallstreet Movement will bring forth an era of new art, true experimentation outside the narrow parameters set by the market. Museums, open your mind and your heart! Art is for everyone! The people are at your door!

On the afternoon of October 20, after occupying the uptown Number 4 Train from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, a dozen or so Occupationists stationed themselves in front of the museum entrance. Their protest was tame, even lame, by Occupationist standards, but it was revealing of the movement’s trajectory.

“Purge the world of bourgeois sickness! Purge the world of dead art!” Quoted from the dead movements of art history (in this case, Fluxus), the slogans of their protest were not about to reform Holocaust restitution law. They would not even knock a dollar off Glenn Lowry’s dry cleaning bill.

Occupy Wall Street has been energized by a host of grievances. Yet the Occupationists have never offered realistic solutions because “what they want” misses the point. As the “Liberty Square Blueprint,” a wiki-page of defining principles edited by several hundred Occupationists, has argued, “Demands cannot reflect inevitable success. Demands imply condition, and we will never stop. Demands cannot reflect the time scale that we are working with.” Instead, the movement finds its solution in the process rather than the products of its Occupation. Occupy Museums was one small act of this pageantry.

Occupy Wall Street is but the latest revival of a spectacle that has been performed many times before—not necessarily in the Arab Spring, which saw regimes toppled through political means, but in certain incarnations of idealistic vision that emerged out of a seventy-two-day experiment in Paris nearly a century and a half ago. Before there were the Tompkins Square Park riots, the student takeovers of 1968, or Occupy Wall Street, there was the Paris Commune of 1871.

The Commune was born in a moment not unlike our own. After the extravagant Second Empire of Napoleon III came crashing down in the Franco-Prussian War, the establishment of the Third Republic left French radicals with unrealistic expectations for the new government. “A majority of the Republicans in the 1870s proved to be more conservative than they had been under the Liberal Empire, even less interested in social reform than before,” writes Roger L. Williams in his French Revolution of 1870–1871.

On March 18, two generals from the new government entered Paris and ascended Montmartre to recover cannon left over from the Prussian siege. A Parisian militia, along with some regular soldiers, turned on the generals and executed them. Local women desecrated their corpses. In The Terrible Year: The Paris Commune, 1871, reissed as The Fall of Paris, The Seige and The Commune, 1870-1871 (Penguin), Alistair Horne recounts how “maenads from the mob squatted and urinated upon them.” Many years later, the Sacré-Cœur basilica would memorialize their deaths and the thousands that followed, including the death of the Archbishop of Paris, murdered in cold blood.

As the Republican government fled, the city created its own communal government. Rather than merely reestablish municipal services, the Commune attempted to inaugurate a “new political era, experimental, positive, scientific,” declared by manifesto: “It is the end of the old government and clerical world, of militarism, of monopolists, of privileges to which the proletariat owes its servitude, the Nation its miseries and disasters.”

The barricades went up, and the Commune set about becoming an idealistic autonomous body inside the French state with much to hope for and little that could actually be done. Among its few lackluster achievements was the suppression of pawnshops and the prohibition of night-baking, reducing “all Paris to stale bread.” As Lord Elton writes inThe Revolutionary Idea in France: 1789–1871: “Upon one thing they were in substantial agreement—the principle of the Commune. The principle of the Commune was the indispensable preliminary to the new Revolution. . . . The Commune was revolutionary not because of what it did but because of what it claimed.”

Caught in the middle of the euphoria was Gustave Courbet, by then a celebrated Realist in his early fifties. “For Courbet, the Commune was, all too briefly, the fulfillment of his dreams of a government without oppressive, domineering institutions, the Proudhonian Utopia of social justice come true,” explains the leftist art historian Linda Nochlin. Yet for all of this idealism, Courbet’s legacy during this brief period only proved to be destructive for himself and for the arts of Paris.

Already tapped to be the head of the city’s Federation of Artists, in April and early May 1871 Courbet set about suppressing the Academy, the École des Beaux-Arts, and the Schools of Rome and of Athens. A May 10 report dedicated his Federation’s efforts to the “radical rejection of the authoritarian principle which has been the very essence of the former administrations.”

The episode of the Vendôme Column became his undoing. A year before, Courbet had petitioned the government to tear down the monument, which Napoleon I had modeled after Trajan’s Column in Rome to memorialize the French victory at Austerlitz. “I wanted to have that mass of melted cannon that perpetuates the tradition of conquest, of looting, and of murder removed from your street,” said Courbet.

On April 12, the Commune agreed and set about engineering its destruction. Late in the afternoon of May 16, with its foundation undermined and cables pulling on its sides, the Column crashed down to the street and broke into several pieces as a band performed for the assembled crowd.

Courbet’s glory was short lived. When French troops entered the city two weeks later, the government suppressed the uprising and killed an estimated 20,000 Communards. Courbet fled but was arrested soon after. The artist’s fame quickly turned to infamy. After a brief prison term, Courbet went into exile in Switzerland, and in 1874 the French courts ordered him to pay to resurrect the Column. After the artist lost on appeal, the government billed him 323,091.68 francs to be paid in 10,000 franc yearly installments. His work in France was seized and liquidated through a fire sale at the Hôtel Drouot. Despondent and struggling to pay his debt, the artist drank himself to death a few days after the sale on December 31, 1877.

Courbet was lucky to have survived the Commune at all, even as he eventually gave his life over to an uprising that offered him nothing in return. “Even those who were to die unhesitatingly beneath its red standards could hardly give a coherent definition,” Horne writes, “and today one’s fingers clutch awkwardly at vague slogans, conflicting ideologies and nebulous abstractions.”

For those of us who watch from the sidelines, the Occupy Wall Street movement may appear sympathetic to our own concerns. At the very least, it seems to offer a safety valve for others to vent their frustrations. Yet the history of idealistic occupations suggests this will also end poorly, with a polarized public and the movement collapsing in ruin.

Like the Commune, Occupy Wall Street is about the perfection of itself rather than the reform of others. This is a reason that the Occupationists differ from other protesters who go home at the end of a long march. For the Occupation, the tents do not come down until perfection is attained or destroyed.

The heart of OWS is therefore in its internal mechanics, especially its strictly “non-hierarchical” code of conduct. The manifestations of this code might appear foolish, but they emerge from a formula meant to challenge if not supplant our current system of government with the Occupation’s own forms of egalitarian command and control, a formula that grOWS ever more doctrinaire and insular for those who practice it. Many of these devices are still being developed in the “General Assemblies” of Occupationist cells. OWS already employs several to limit open speech, especially when the purity of the Occupation is confronted by the impurities of our existing laws and precedent.

The repudiation of American law at the heart of OWS means that the Occupation is not just another voluntary association or another utopian community with its own set of parliamentary procedures. The Occupationists have never acknowledged the right of Brookfield Properties, the private owners Zuccotti Park, to announce their own rules for the use of the park. Nor do they recognize the right of city government to ask that the park be vacated to allow for proper sanitation—a role that the Occupationists had theatrically taken on themselves with questionable results. This denial is only now coming to a head as police reassert authority over the encampments. The routine call and response ofOWS—“Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!” and “Whose park? Our park!”—is revealing in that the rhetoric ofOWS always circles back in on itself. To the Occupationists, they are what democracy looks like, and the rest of us are not what democracy looks like. They have the right to occupy whatever space they choose, while the rest of us, including our agents in law enforcement, do not.

The first Occupy Museums of October 20 presented another venue for the Occupationists to assert this sense of entitlement. They took up their positions at moma in a circle facing inwards rather than out. Since their interests are mainly insular, their speeches ultimately concerned themselves. As different protesters came up to the top of the “stack,” or what OWS calls its list of approved speakers, each statement was repeated line by line by the rest of the Occupationists. “Mic check” is the Occupation’s code commanding the crowd to repeat whatever a speaker says, from “Down with bourgeois art” to “Have you seen my cell phone charger?” A complex system of arm and finger waving is another development.

OWS may claim that these practices came out of the need to broadcast a speaker’s words in a park that does not permit megaphones. In a small gathering like the one at Occupy Museums, it merely serves to channel speech into a cult-like spectacle of repetition and hand-signals, all the while drowning out opposing voices.

The painter Loren Munk, who creates YouTube videos under the pseudonym James Kalm, is an artist who has gone against the grain by questioning the intentions of the Occupation. Recently he has turned his lens from documenting museum and gallery openings to filing reports from the barricades. After stumbling upon Occupy’s Brooklyn Bridge protest of October 3 while riding his bicycle from his home in Red Hook to Manhattan, Munk has uploaded over a dozen videos of the Occupation to his YouTube page called “Rough Cuts” under the title of “Resist we much: a continuing critique of Occupy Wall Street.” By questioning the protesters in ad-hoc video exchanges, Munk has sought to expose what he sees as the inconsistencies and dangers of the movement.

Munk’s presence at the first Occupy Museums protest, seen in a video he posted on YouTube on October 21, proved to be illuminating. About eight minutes into the video, as Munk narrates into his camera from the protest circle, the Occupationists attempt to silence his report.

“We need to speak together,” Noah Fischer admonishes—a statement, like everything spoken in this exchange, immediately repeated by the group through the “human microphone.”

“I’m not part of the group. I’m the 1%,” Munk responds.

“Then why are you on this side of the barrier?” demands the group.

“Because the 1% has the right to be where they want to be, right? Isn’t that what freedom is all about?”

“We have a process. In our process we don’t talk while other people are speaking. You are welcome to stay here. But you need to honor the process.”

“What happens if I don’t honor the process?”

“Then nothing gets accomplished.”

Another Occupationist went on “to point out to this gentleman who has joined us, who decided to shout over us and not respect the process, that he clearly demonstrates that he is part of the 1% in using his voice to try and drown out the voices of others who are trying to use a democratic means of communication.”

The protesters’ indignation at being interrupted on a public sidewalk might seem ironic if not laughable. When you realize that Munk’s words are regarded as unsanctioned and unprotected by the Occupation’s own codes, then Occupy Wall Street takes on a frightening aspect for anyone—artists especially—who speak out in ways that do not advance the Occupation’s own political processes.

Perhaps no image illustrates the vision of the Occupation better than the poster used to promote the initial encampment of September 17. Created by Adbusters, an anti-capitalist Canadian magazine dedicated to “culture-jamming,” the poster features a female dancer balanced on the head of the Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull, the statue on Bowling Green that has come to represent the Wall Street bull market. In the background, obscured by dust and tear gas, is a charging scrum of riot police wielding clubs and pushing towards the center.

“To me it was a sublime symbol of total clarity,” says Kalle Lasn, the Estonian-born founder of Adbusters.

Here’s a body poised in this beautiful position and it spoke of this crystal-clear sublime idea behind this messy business. On top of the head it said, “What is our one demand?” To me it was almost like an invitation, like if we get our act together then we can launch a revolution. It had this magical revolutionary feel to it, which you couldn’t have with the usual lefty poster which is nasty and visceral and in your face. The magic came from the fact this ballerina is so sublimely tender.

Yet like the riot police charging towards the dancer, the “magic” of the sublime moment is predicated on its eventual destruction. From the start, the founders of OWS have hoped that its idealism would end in confrontation. After two months of delay, the city’s new enforcement, initiated during the police clearing of Zuccotti on November 15, will undoubtedly play into the Occupation’s own eschatology, endtimes that have only just begun, although the surgical NYPD operation did not give the Occupationists the bloody finale they may have sought.

Whenever Lenin wanted to suggest the success of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, he compared it to the mythical seventy-two days of the Paris Commune of 1871. For Lenin, the seventy-third day of Bolshevism became “Commune plus one.” “All through his life,” writes Horne, “Lenin studied the Commune: worshipped its heroism, analyzed its successes, criticized its faults, and compared its failures with the failures of the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905.” At his death, Lenin’s body was wrapped in the red Communard flag.

In 1964, a Soviet Voskhod even rocketed to space carrying a shred of an original Communard banner. By restarting a clock that ran for a couple of months in a Paris spring, the Communists consigned tens of millions of people to death and ruined half the nations of Europe. They then saw fit to celebrate these achievements by sending the Paris Commune into space before, eventually, their own idealistic creation came crashing down to Earth.

Marx called the Commune the first “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Lenin’s Bolsheviks identified closely with the Commune and shared the same name. Yet the Communists were far from the last to be taken in by its myth.

There is an undeniable romance in doomed idealism, even if the ends are worse than the beginnings. The deadliest form of idealism invites its own ruin, either from outside or within, so that the purity of the ideal can be measured against the severity of its destruction—cataclysm as a defense against compromise. “The Commune ruled for a brief seventy days before expiring in a holocaust of fire and bloodshed far in excess of anything perpetrated during the Great Revolution of 1789,” writes Horne, “but it left behind an indelible mark that was to spread far beyond the boundaries of France.”

The legacy of the Commune was an idealistic promise that can never be fulfilled. To resurrect the Commune therefore means to restart the countdown to ruin. Herein lies the deadly mechanics of the Commune and the movements it inspires. Listen closely and most of the failed idealism of the last century has the tick of that Commune clock, from the terror of China to Cambodia to many smaller time bombs including, now, Occupy Wall Street.



James Panero is the Managing Editor of The New Criterion. 

GalleristNY: Occupy Art Street: A Guide to Recent Art World Protests


by: Andrew Russeth

Raise high your palette knives! Wave your unstretched canvas! Occupy Wall Street has hit the art world. In recent weeks, protestors have disrupted Sotheby’s auctions in solidarity with union art handlers who have been on strike for more than two months, read manifestos outside of art museums and temporarily occupied Artists Space, a nonprofit gallery in Soho. If you haven’t been following the minute-to-minute developments on Gallerist, here’s a recap of the Occupy actions.


Oct. 11



In the second in a string of interventions at the Upper East Side auction house, a young man in a button-up shirt and tie leapt from his seat during an afternoon sale and shouted, “Occupy Wall Street supports the 99 percent!” A group of security guards circled him and walked him out of the room. “Sotheby’s locks out their workers!” he continued on his way out. “Shame! Shame on the 1 percent!” More disruptions with yelling and an air horn followed as, one by one, the interlopers were removed. With buyer’s premiums, the auction netted $3.6 million.


Earlier in the month, the Sotheby’s art handlers union protested outside of 820 Fifth Avenue, targeting the wealthy auction-house clients living inside the tony residence. Collector Lily Safra sent down sandwiches to the protestors. “It’s good that Lily Safra did this,” union president Jason Ide told us. “It sends a message to prominent New Yorkers.” In what some may describe as an awkward occurrence, on Thursday, Oct. 20, Ms. Safra and her husband, Edmond, sold off hundreds of their belongings at Sotheby’s in a sale that totaled $45.9 million.


Oct. 20 

“Occupy Museums”


Artist Noah Fischer, 34, is a Columbia M.F.A. grad, exhibitor at Chelsea’s Claire Oliver gallery and early supporter of Occupy Wall Street. Mr. Fischer took the subway around town with a band of about a dozen protestors, reading a manifesto outside of the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum. He wore a mask on his face that looked like a giant quarter.


“We, the artists of the 99 percent, have emerged!” Mr. Fischer cried outside MoMA. “Not as pawns in your fraudulent art market where the royalty of Wall Street rule. And launder their stolen loot! But rather with our own voices, and power.” New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz showed up, and preached to the crowd, “Speaking is a force!”


The day before the event, Mr. Fischer told us the impetus for his quixotic campaign: “With Occupy Museums,” he said, “we are encouraging people to think about who museums serve, and calling the art world out on its elitism and its abuse of labor.” Mr. Fischer has also been involved with the group of artists who created a website called the Wall Street Occupennial, which aims to document the various interventions taking place around town.


Oct. 22

The Occupation of Artists Space


But the most outré act so far may be the work of the group of about 10 people—including the artist Georgia Sagri, who, like Mr. Fischer, is a Columbia M.F.A. grad—who occupied the nonprofit Soho gallery Artists Space on the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 22. They refused to speak to press, but when we showed up on Sunday afternoon, there were about a dozen people there, including two homeless people.


Members of the group spent the night there. They conversed with Artists Space staff, but, like the O.W.S. protesters, made no demands. They did, however, make a blog, on which they explained their position: “Refusing to allow the growing global occupation movement to be reduced to mere symbolic exhibitionism or panel-talk, the participants of this new space are not hosted by paternalistic aesthetic discourse.”


“I don’t mind the gesture, but I’m surprised by the naïveté,” Artists Space executive director and chief curator Stefan Kalmár said as he sat at a desk across the room from the occupiers, looking exasperated. “I feel like our work [at Artists Space] is far more progressive than what I have heard here.”


ArtfagCity: The Deal with Occupy Museums

By: Paddy Johnson

Last week Internet commenters took to counting the reasons why Occupy Museums is so ill-conceived. A splinter faction of The Occupy Wall Street movement, the group announced its plans Wednesday to travel from the Frick to The New Museum in protest of economic disparity in the museum world. The original call to action outlined their schedule for the next day and describes an “absolute equation of art with capital” and museum shows “meant to inflate these markets”, each of which are “pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism.” This Thursday they will continue their protest.

Since the announcement’s posting it’s been all clamor: MoMA’s always been a play thing for the rich, how’s this gonna change it? Have “voices of dissent” actually been silenced by BIG money? And my favorite: Why aren’t they targeting something else? (Libraries were tabled atGothamistChelsea galleries and Sotheby’s everywhere else).

These are all reasonable questions, but they respond to a single artist’s work — Noah Fischer’scall to action — and not the occupation itself, which is defined by many voices and included poetry, manifestos, and even the General Assembly as proposed works of art. That one artist’s name should be so prominent in a leaderless protest is an obvious flaw in the call to action, which should not only be understood as secondary to the protest itself, but reflective of the artist’s practice. Fischer has a long history of engaging rhetoric and the language of protest in his work, a background I am more familiar with than most because of our friendship [<----- disclaimer here]. The call, as I see it, is essentially a work of pastiche.

When I asked Occupy Museums protestor James Rose what he thought of the criticism lodged thus far, his response was simple. “I love museums,” he told me. “They’ve been my source of inspiration and by no means am I anti-museum.”  According to Rose, Occupy Museums is the process of self education in public forum. “I was shocked when I found out how much corporate money plays a role in what gets shown.”

Rose is not an artist, but to some the movement still smacks of sour grapes. “Art is not a career” one friend told me over email. Like many, she believes the pursuit is elective and not every artist deserves to be in a museum. I’d wager that only a small percentage of protesters involved in the movement want a completely democratic museums, though. “We’re not naive” Blithe Riley told me in an interview last week. Like Rose, Riley also mentioned the process of self education in the GA, which she describes as an “exciting extension of a lot of the consciousness raising groups that have happened in the past which had a very valid, tangible outcome.”

While, at this point, the group hasn’t gone so far so as to identify specific financial relationships they find unsatisfactory, there’s certainly no shortage of problems to discuss. This fall, Andrew Russeth wrote a great piece for the Observer that charts the ever-growing flow of money into the art world and its distribution, which is more lopsided than ever. Large museums and non-profits with social cache for collectors pick up all the cash, while smaller organizations struggle. In another article, written this fall for the L Magazine, I tie the absence of large collectives shown in American museums relative to those in Europe to the dominance of the art market. Collaborative practices are increasingly common amongst artists, but the fact remains that works made by a group of twenty-odd individuals, many of whom are completely unknown, simply don’t have a developed market or even a public face. It’s hard to sell exhibitions like that to the public,  let alone the collectors on museum boards. As a result, they simply aren’t shown.

Given the volume of problems Occupy Museums seems to address, it’s perhaps not surprising that when I asked Noah Fischer and Blithe Riley to talk to these criticisms, their response wasn’t exactly media friendly.

“Understanding Occupy Museums is understanding what Occupy is,” Fischer told me. It’s a point that may have little meaning even to those who have spent time at Zuccotti Park. I myself have given up trying to explain to naysayers why anyone should care about a crowd with a DIY microphone, five hundred different opinions, and zero leadership; the only way to understand the movement is through extended participation. Fischer, a long time participant in the Occupy Wall Street movement, does a far better job on that front, describing its uniqueness as a kind of “social software” and a “physical embodiment of the Internet.”

“Little groups of people form, and they’re not closed like cliques, like in other social situations – it’s all about information sharing,” he told me over the phone. “There’s larger forums where we can communicate, too, and this kind of open identity and anonymity at the same time in the way that you interact with people. It just seems like you’re literally walking around in a kind of an Internet space.”

This is what is new and transformative about the movement and, ultimately, what Occupy Museums is about: using the open process of self-education as a means of self empowerment. It is a fight against passivity, and a demand that the people of all income stratas be given a voice.

While these demands aren’t new, the occupiers are probably right when they describe Occupy Wall Street as a new art form: the general assembly, people’s mic, and occupation as a whole, is a type of communication we haven’t seen before. Whether anything will come of it is another question. Certainly, I have my doubts that it will dilute the power of Occupy Wall Street; I’ve read a lot of grumbling about this over twitter, but seeing as how OWS is expanding everywhere, not just the art world, and I think it’s generally a sign of strength not weakness. However, getting museums to be open to this kind of conversation seems a larger hurdle. We’ve been talking about the problems caused through economic disparity for the last 40 years and plenty of protestors have hit brick walls.

For now though, participants seem cautiously optimistic. “It’s not like we’re saying that we know by having these series of actions that we’re going to entirely change the way the art market functions,” Riley told me over the phone. Fischer, who was part of the conference call, quickly followed this up, saying resolutely, “I think it will.”

Tagged as: Blithe RileyNoah Fischeroccupy museumssocial softwarethe internetZuccotti Park




New York Times: Taking the Protests to the Art World


The Occupy Wall Street movement took on the art world, sort of, this week, with a splinter group, Occupy Museums. Convened on Thursday evening through a FacebookTwitter and Tumblr posts, about 20 people made their way from the Museum of Modern Art to the New Museum  to a downtown gallery, protesting what they say is the conflation of art and commerce, the snobbery of the art market and high ticket prices at museums, which they called the “temples of the cultural elite.”

Outside the New Museum they chanted: “Museums, open your minds and your hearts, and listen. Art is for everyone! The people are at your door.” Standing in a circle on the sidewalk, they used the call-and-repeat system known as the people’s mic, which has become a hallmark of the movement. The people’s mic is an “art form,” Noah Fischer, an artist and organizer of Occupy Museums, said later, promising that it was only the first new artistic tool to emerge from the protests. “I thing art is going a change from this movement,” he said, “because it’s going to unstick the current paradigm, which is based on money.” 

After a  reading from a text, which called museums a “pyramid scheme” in which “the wealthiest one hundredth of one percent claim ownership of culture,” the Occupy Museums group opened the floor to supporters to speak. One woman noted that the New Museum had recently collaborated with a group called WAGE – Working Artists and the Greater Economy – to take on the issue of artist compensation in an exhibit called “Free.” She wanted to acknowledge the museum for paying artists fairly for their work in it. But she added, “This should not be an exception, but rather a rule.” She called upon artists to be brave and stand up to gatekeeper cultural institutions. Together, she said, “we are stronger than the threat of obscurity.”

At MoMA, the protesters had been cordoned off by the police, but at the New Museum they were unencumbered. Three police officers casually watched the proceedings, leaning on their squad car. Museumgoers, too, seemed to take the spectacle in stride (though a protester in a gorilla mask, a woman who said she worked at an art museum, drew a few double takes). Some passersby stopped to listen. “It makes sense,” one 60-ish man, a neighborhood resident, said of the group’s comments, before heading on his way.

Mr. Fischer, 34, a Brooklyn sculptor, performance artist and Fulbright scholar, has been a supporter of Occupy Wall Street since it started five weeks ago, though he has  spent only one night at Zuccotti Park, the movement’s epicenter. “My girlfriend, she would not appreciate me sleeping there every night,” he said, as his girlfriend looked on, nodding. He has, though, committed himself as an artist to protesting. “Right now, this is my practice,” he said. (He teaches at the Pratt Institute and rents out artist studios to make ends meet.)

Even in its first day, Occupy Museums, which is meant to be a weekly event, had drawn some criticism online, but Mr. Fischer said dissent was welcome. “This is our moment to expand people’s thinking about what part of our culture is controlled by the one percent,” he said, “and people who think about it will figure out pretty quickly that MoMA is.”

Over the summer Mr. Fischer and several others were involved in a performance of their own on Wall Street, “Summer of Change.” Wearing an oversized mask that resembled the head side of a coin (a penny or a quarter), Mr. Fischer and his compatriots gave out vast amounts of change – 400 quarters, 1,000 dimes – in an attempt at redistribution of wealth. (The project was funded by a Kickstarter.) “It’s time now, in the movement, to look beyond Wall Street and notice that a culture of economic inequality flows to all parts of our city, and all parts of our culture,” Mr. Fischer said.

At the New Museum, a protester mentioned White Box, a small gallery off the Bowery that was having an opening that night. After a consensus vote, the group marched their protest over to its doors. But the exhibit there, “WALLmART,” turned out to be in solidarity with the 99 percent movement. So after a few minutes, the Occupy Museums group abandoned their sidewalk chants and went in.

“We occupied, and now we’re going to schmooze,” Mr. Fischer said.



ArtFagCity: Why Karen Archey is Wrong About Occupy Museums

In a piece yesterday at artINFO, Karen Archey asks, “Why is Occupy Wall Street Protesting NYC Museums, and Not Super Rich Galleries and Art Fairs?” The post is aimed at Occupy Museums, the Occupy Wall Street Arts and Culture Working Group project that began protesting yesterday outside MoMA and the New Museum. Archey thinks the movement’s energy is misdirected, and might be better spent looking into art-worlders more directly associated with the market. It’s an intelligible post, and it’s true that the influence of a small group of private firms holds undue weight in the crafting of art history. Pretty rapidly, however, Archey’s post descends into personal axe-grinding against Art Fag City.

First of all, Archey’s question about Occupy Museums only makes sense if you’re not paying attention. For Occupy Museums to direct its criticism at state-funded, public-serving museums is in exact accordance with the methods of the Occupy movement as a whole: every official demand to emerge from the Demands Working Group has been directed at government institutions, rather than private industry. Even Adbusters’ original call, back in July, was addressed not at banks or investment firms but at Barack Obama, demanding he “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.” While the Occupy movement has also endorsed a boycott against the banking sector, its principal demand has always been for a change in government regulation.

It doesn’t take much to draw the connection here between government and museums. After all, as Archey points out, “museums are exceedingly bureaucratic and held responsible for using tax payer dollars”. All of those taxpayer dollars are dispensed with the explicit understanding that museums are to act in the public service. The bureaucrats who run the country’s biggest museums are an altogether fitting analogue to our legislature: their salaries are paid for our taxes, and the decisions they make affect everyone. Archey asks, “Should they be occupied because their curators and directors are arbiters of taste?” Yes! Yes, for exactly the same reason that we direct our demands at the arbiters of commerce. This is what this entire movement is about.

Further, Archey does not seem to be able to distinguish between requests for change and requests for demolition. It is of course true, as she says, that museums “should be supported in weaving art into our cultural fabric”. No one said anything to the contrary. Protest is not unpatriotic simply because it is directed against an institution one supports. The entire history of institutional critique in art stands as a testament to this.

The rest of Archey’s post is largely turned over to personal attacks. She implies that Noah Fischer is unfit to organize the Occupy Museums protests by virtue of his being represented by Claire Oliver Gallery, writing, “Is YOUR art for everyone? I think not.” This is akin to the accusations leveled by the right-wing media that the Occupy protesters are insincere because they use mobile phones or internet platforms produced by large corporations. She then speculates that Occupy Museums is “born out of misdirected bitterness toward an institution that has yet to accept [Fischer] in the way that [he wants]”. Apparently Noah Fischer, art-world insider, is frustrated that he has no works in MoMA’s collection at the age of 34. In Archey’s telling, he is at once complicit with the art world (because he works with Claire Oliver) and enough of an outsider to expect early-career acceptance at MoMA.

Lastly, she turns over a section to accusing us of… something or other. Quoting a section of Occupy Museums’s press release: “We recognize that art is for everyone, across all classes and cultures and communities,” she writes:
*Coincidentally, “Art for Everyone” is the same motto used by Jen Bekman of 20×200, who not only frequently sponsors Art Fag City but also was lauded by [AFC Editorial Director Paddy] Johnson for raising almost a million dollars of venture capital for that business. So I’m a little confused, are exceedingly large amounts of money in the hands of people that control the art world bad or good? I guess it depends on the day.
The evidence goes thus:
  • The press release produced by an art offshoot of a movement whose favorite word is “everyone” contains the phrase, “Art is for Everyone”.
  • 20×200, the editions dealer, uses “Art for Everyone” as its motto.
  • 20×200 has been a sponsor of Art Fag City.
  • Paddy Johnson, Art Fag City’s editorial director, posted Occupy Museums’s press release on her tumblr.
  • …So I guess maybe we staged some protests to sell prints for our friend?

This is nonsense. To make this argument, Archey must ignore a quarter of the words she quotes. She must ignore the long history of democratic rhetoric in art. She also must ignore the fact that there really isn’t any connection between 20×200 and Noah Fischer.

Democracy, as silly as this sounds, is a part of Art Fag City’s brand. It’s why we like net art, it’s why we like multiples, it’s why we like protests, it’s why we offer our material for free and why we work to encourage intelligent discussion in our comments. It’s sort of a theme for us, and it’s a theme people know about and like, and it’s been that way since long before 20×200 purchased their ad space.

The Occupy Museums press release ends on a positive note, heralding “an era of new art, true experimentation outside the narrow parameters set by the market.” Far from calling for museums to close, it asks them to “open your mind and your heart!” We can support our museums and still want change, and that doesn’t make us misguided or corrupt or immoral. It makes us art lovers.


Tagged as: ArtInfokaren archeyNoah Fischeroccupy museumsOccupy Wall Street




Art Info: Why is Occupy Wall Street Protesting NYC Museums...

by: Karen Archey

If anyone figures out the answer, please let me know! In what may be the largest misstep of the Occupy Wall Street campaign, protestors are now “occupying” New York City museums. Starting today with a teach-in at Zuccotti Park at 3PM, protestors will next “occupy” the 4 train to occupy MoMA, the M3 Bus to occupy the Frick, and finally the 6 train to occupy the New Museum at around 7PM. The movement is organized by Claire Oliver-represented artist Noah Fischer, and publicized on Paddy Johnson’s Tumblr. According to their manifesto, Occupy Museums is dissatisfied with the general cultural elitism of the art world and pandering to rich trustees that museums often must go through in order to be given donations to make ends meet. They write:

The game is up: we see through the pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism controlled by the 1%. No longer will we, the artists of the 99%, allow ourselves to be tricked into accepting a corrupt hierarchical system based on false scarcity and propaganda concerning absurd elevation of one individual genius over another human being for the monetary gain of the elitest of elite. For the past decade and more, artists and art lovers have been the victims of the intense commercialization and co-optation or art. We recognize that art is for everyone*, across all classes and cultures and communities.

While rightfully expressing frustration with societal norms has been the forté of Occupy Wall Street since its inception, it seems obvious that “Occupy Museums” is wide off the mark in occupying museums rather than the galleries and art fairs propagated by multi-millionaires. Talk about a case of historical amnesia! Do we not remember that 2009 saw the closing of various museums around the country, including the Rose Art Museum, which Johnson herself covered with much diligence and candor? Why would you occupy a non-profit institution over a for-profit one in the same sector? And further, museums are exceedingly bureaucratic and held responsible for using tax payer dollars, albeit often the tax money they receive barely keeps the lights on. The museum world is one that I actually have a little bit of faith in–unless you’re a director of a handful of institutions across the US, employees of museums are generally underpaid cultural workers that in my opinion, should be supported in weaving art into our cultural fabric.

To be fair, frustrations with the art world and its elitism is a justified qualm. Art students around the country are paying over a $100,000 for an education they most likely will never use in an art world context. But are museums to blame for this? Should they be occupied because their curators and directors are arbiters of taste, or should someone else be held responsible for this financial injustice? (Mayhaps, bankers whose actions have dramatically increased the class divide of the last ten years?) And what distinguishes museums in our current moment from those in times past, which were always Enlightenment-era projects designed to usher transcendental experiences in for the already-learned and elite?

Rather than targeting museums, it seems more pertinent to take action through creation of art reacting to its market catering to rich and elite–or maybe even occupying super rich galleries and art fairs. How about the notably evil David Zwirner, anyone? And further, Noah Fischer, why create art (seen above) that is tailor-made to exist in a Chelsea gallery and sold to rich people? Is YOUR art for everyone? I think not. Rather than villainizing poor museums and distracting minds from the real problem, which is Wall Street, why not create projects in the name of art that instill new ways of viewing the economy–such as e-flux’s Time/Bank project–that may have some real impact in the culture at large? Or could it be possible that, even though the motivations and frustrations of OWS protestors are generally productive, this specific project is born out of misdirected bitterness toward an institution that has yet to accept you in the way that you want?

*Coincidentally, “Art for Everyone” is the same motto used by Jen Bekman of 20×200, who not only frequently sponsors Art Fag City but also was lauded by Johnson for raising almost a million dollars of venture capital for that business. So I’m a little confused, are exceedingly large amounts of money in the hands of people that control the art world bad or good? I guess it depends on the day.

Disclaimer: I “interned” at AFC in 2009.



Washington Post: Occupy Museums to protest at art exhibits in New York


Two weeks after a Washington protest group affiliated with Occupy DCshut down the Air and Space Museum, some protesters are heading to New York’s cultural institutions for a demonstration. Occupy Museumswill demonstrate at the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Collection and the New Museum on Thursday evening against the “cultural elitism” that they say the museums perpetuate.
A demonstrator lies on the ground in front of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington on Oct. 8 after police pepper-sprayed protestors trying to get into the museum. (Jose Luis Magana - AP)

According to Noah Fischer, the organizer of the protest:

The game is up: we see through the pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism controlled by the 1%. No longer will we, the artists of the 99%, allow ourselves to be tricked into accepting a corrupt hierarchical system based on false scarcity and propaganda concerning absurd elevation of one individual genius over another human being for the monetary gain of the elitest of elite.

Occupy demonstrators in New York hosted their own exhibition ofprotest art last week, featuring some controversial displays such as the burning of legal tender. Shepard Fairey, the creator of the famous Obama “Hope” poster, has also created Occupy-themed work. The New York museum protests aren’t the first to target an art museum: An Occupy group in Vancouver set up camp in front of the city’s art museum last week.

Targeting museums might be considered a misstep for Occupy. Though museum exhibitions drive the market for art collectors, the art likely would be off-limits to the 99 percent because it would be displayed exclusively in the homes of the 1 percent.

Hyperallergic blogger Hrag Vartanian argues that the entire institution of art can be seen as elitist:

Contemporary art people like to think that they create art for the masses but in effect will laugh at work that is populist or appeals to a mass audience in the way of a Thomas Kinkade or Peter Max. You can dismiss mass opinions as potentially uninformed or uneducated but that’s, well, elitist. Who gets to decide what goes into a museum of the 99%? That’s a bigger question I’d love to know the answer to.

By   |  09:52 AM ET, 10/20/2011 


Huffington Post: 'Occupy Museums,' Inspired By Occupy Wall Street, Launches In New York
Hyperallergic: Is Occupying Museums Misguided?

Is Occupying Museums Misguided?
by Hrag Vartanian on October 19, 2011

This Occupy Museum effort is the most peculiar Occupy Wall Street/art-related thing I’ve heard about yet. A protest is slated for tomorrow and intends to “occupy” the Frick Museum, MoMA and the New Museum.

How is occupying the Frick Museum constructive? They don’t even show contemporary art but historic work that isn’t exactly driving the art market.

And the MoMA? Well, they started as the play thing of the rich, so why would they change? Though protesting their exorbitant admission fee might be an achievable focus. $25!?!? Insane.

And the New Museum? Well, that’s been discussed quite a bit and yes, they have a track record of showcasing private collections and insider issues but why not occupy art galleries or present alternatives? Why not boycott exhibitions that are vanity shows … I for one had no interest in seeing that institution’s Skin Fruit. This protest seems to be all over the place.

If we’re going to change the way museums do things than we have to find them an alternate mode of funding. If rich patrons aren’t going to fund them then they’ll need a more grassroots approach (Kickstarter?) or maybe public money, but neither of those seem likely at the moment. Maybe protest City Hall for more arts funding?

The announcement says, “voices of dissent have been silenced by a fearful survivalist atmosphere and the hush hush of BIG money” but have they really? We actually hear these protests all the time but there has been no effective alternative. Those who go the DIY approach often get ignored by others, not because of conspiracy (unless you’re paranoid) but because of the acceptance so much of the art world wants from those higher up on the art world food chain.

The other irony of contemporary art is that it is an elitest venture. Contemporary art people like to think that they create art for the masses but in effect will laugh at work that is populist or appeals to a mass audience in the way of a Thomas Kinkade or Peter Max. You can dismiss mass opinions as potentially uninformed or uneducated but that’s, well, elitist. Who gets to decide what goes into a museum of the 99%? That’s a bigger question I’d love to know the answer to.

I think Occupy Wall Street hits on the bigger issue that impacts not only the art world but every other facet of society, namely access to money and power. Where were these protesters yesterday during the Sotheby’s art handlers protest? Since August 1, members of the 99% (i.e. art handlers) have been locked out by Sotheby’s, and they continue to need help standing up to the art market’s disregard of workers who make the system run. Yes, some members of Occupy Wall Street have been helping the art handlers with small actions but a settlement between the art handlers and the auction giant has not yet been achieved. It will be interesting to see if established artists, curators or dealers join this protest tomorrow, otherwise it will look like sour grapes. Even the Guerrilla Girls, who complained about the art establishment, were at the end of the day consumed by the system that now celebrated by them.

In my opinion, the bigger question is how will we fund a museum of the 99% and who gets to decide what is shown?

New York Times: A Not-Really-on-Wall-St. Protest, but the Fallout Is Felt There

The man traveled alone, pulling a mask of George Washington — or, at least, the version that is embossed on the front of quarters — over his face.

Victor Blue for The New York Times

Tourists visiting Wall Street took pictures of the New York Stock Exchange.

The protesters are getting more attention and expanding outside New York. What are they doing right, and what are they missing?

Connect with us on Twitter for breaking news and headlines in New York.

“We are occupying Wall Street,” he said grandly in the shadow of the New York Stock Exchange, as pedestrians buzzed past him. “We’re over on Liberty Street.”

Wall Street, you might have heard, is occupied. But not by protesters. The man in the mask is among the many who have made camp a few blocks away, in Zuccotti Park, choosing an open plaza over the highly fortified area around the stock exchange.

Instead, Wall Street is occupied by tourists, banging their shins against the metal barricades that make restaurant entrances barely accessible; by workers, from traders to maintenance men, bouncing like pinballs through the sidewalk traffic on their way to work; and by police horses, leaving their malodorous marks beside bankers’ walking paths — perhaps the demonstration’s most palpable triumph to date.

Even in relative absentia, Occupy Wall Street has created obvious ripples on the actual street it borrows its name from.

Officers said the area had grown particularly clogged in recent weeks, with many visitors asking where the protests can be found. Meanwhile, temporary barricades surround much of Wall and Broad Streets and extend to a handful of neighboring blocks, turning even the shortest of trips into labyrinthine expeditions. Vehicle access in the area is usually limited, but recently even the sidewalk leading to the exchange has been closed to those who do not work on the block.

For Devon Johnson, 33, an elevator maintenance worker in the area, the security has made moving from job to job a staggering physical challenge.

“It’s a big inconvenience,” he said. “We used to be able to go straight through.” Mr. Johnson said he was often required to lug more than 100 pounds of spare parts, wrenches and elevator brakes.

Vincent Alessi, a managing partner at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, across the street from the stock exchange, said his lunch business had fallen 50 percent since the protests began. “They’re not hurting the big banks,” he said of the protesters. “They’re hurting me.”

According to residents, several street vendors have also been forced to relocate, their sidewalk spots now occupied by barricades.

Michael Kaplan, 24, a senior vice president at an investment firm near the stock exchange who also lives in the area, said the protests had done little to affect his workday. But some demonstrators’ evening routine — boisterous bar-hopping, with an occasional vuvuzela appearance — has been difficult to tune out. “I feel like I’m sleeping at a soccer game,” he said.

Like many who represent the vilified Wall Street bankers and investors, Mr. Kaplan was ambivalent about the protests. He acknowledged the demonstrators’ right to free speech, but said they had not presented an intelligible message or a firm grasp of personal responsibility. “I’m the same age as these kids,” he said. “I have the same college debt. But I knocked on doors.”

Frank Dinger, 72, the chairman of William H. Sadlier Inc., a publishing company at 14 Wall Street, said the frustrated masses had come to the wrong place. “What role does Wall Street have in creating jobs?” he asked. “It’s an aggravation and an annoyance.”

For Mr. Johnson, the elevator repairman, the protests have been both, but their message has resonated. “It’s our money, and no one benefits but Wall Street,” he said, taking his lunch break on a bench outside a security checkpoint.

And then there are the tourists. While many international sightseers have little interest in the protest’s outcome, the desire to witness an evolving American drama is strong. On Tuesday, as three demonstrators walked silently along Wall Street with anti-banking signs, two officers mounted their horses and rode slowly down the street, keeping an eye on the protesters. Tourists’ cameras tracked the officers’ every move.

By early afternoon, Enrique Villalpando, 36, visiting from Mexico with his wife, appeared to have grown tired of gazing at a heavily secured building on a mostly empty street.

“We thought it was going to be everywhere,” he said of the protests, shrugging. “Do you know where is the famous bull?”

A version of this article appeared in print on October 13, 2011, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: A Not-Really-on-Wall-St. Protest, but Ripples Are Felt, and Even Stepped In, There.


RT America

Daily Mirror, Kerala, India

translation: It  was  a  novelty   for   New Yorkers  when Mr.  Noah Fischer,  a  famous  artist,  as  well  as the  Aaron Burr Society,  one  of the city’s  social  service  organizations  working  for  the  prosperity  of  the  society,  joined  their hands  together. The   large  crowd  witnessed their performance which commemorated former US president John  F.  Kennedy.   The  event  was  part of a seven summer series of seven performances. Along  with  the  glorious  talks  about  the  former president,  Mr Noah Fischer  & the Aaron Burr Society distributed fifty-cent coins bearing the face of Mr Kennedy .The people  paid their  homage to  the  former president in colleting these  coins amid  high spirits.  Mr  Fischer  has paid  his visit to  India, participating in  a national convention  held in RLV college  of Tripunithura  Ernakulam  Kerala,  one  of  the beautiful states of India. His presence at the convention gave new insights  to the participants  as  he shared  his  immense  knowledge of  art & sculpture.

Thirteen.org: Pugilism and Performance Art for Change



The pitch: Some artists believe in second chances. Some believe in change — the kind that comes in the form of nickels and quarters. Noah Fischer andJim Costanzo are two performance artists bringing change to Wall Street, one coin at a time.

Summer of Change” is a series of street performances Fischer and Costanzo created as a critique of America’s devotion to the Almighty Dollar. Each performance culminates in the distribution of $100 in different denominations to onlookers.

On June 21, the summer solstice, the pair offered up greenbacks and liberty dollars. For the final performance, on Sept. 22, the fall equinox, they will distribute 10,000 Lincoln pennies.

“When you dump money on the street, people tend to have  a ferocious and energetic reaction,” said Fischer, describing those who collect the money following a “Summer of Change” performance.


The Hindu
Kochivibe: The Inter University workshop on “InterVisuality” – RLV college of Music and Fine Arts

RLV college of Music and Fine Arts was chosen as the battleground for The Inter University on InterVisuablity .  The workshop site ( i.e,; the college) was strewn with various materials. Students roam around, some with a purpose while some are just onlookers, but participants nevertheless. It is all part ofIntervisuality — the theme of the workshop Transtrends 2010 at RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Thripunithura, where students are evolving a form of communication through new media installation involving painting, sculpture and performing arts like music and dance.

On display are skeletons of 10 lanterns made of bamboo and fabric in various sizes. Calling it “Random Ranthal” (lantern in Malayalam), the final display would be a colourfully decorated fabric that would have block text printing in various languages and images that would add to the imagination of the viewer. The switching on and off of the lanterns accompanied by music and dance in a sound and light performance would be the final result of the installation in Intervisuality.

Students in the workshop have been busy carving words and images into potatoes to make block prints and then like an assembly line producing lantern-cloth stamped with these words and symbols. And inspiring them and directing them all is Noah Fisher, artist from New York. Joining him in his work are Anil Dayanand with his art work and Bipin Balachandran as curator of the workshop, both faculty members at the RLV College and numerous students from various departments. There are at least two students from 10 other colleges, of which six are outside the State.

This is the first time that a workshop and a seminar for fine arts of national standard is being organised in the State, said K. Sidharthan, Head of the Department of Fine Arts at RLV College. Wishing the workshop all the very best .



Arr21 Blog
Timeout New York
Cast Your Art
Art Fag City
Financial Times: Kunstenfestivaldesarts

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c2f14f0a-1de6-11dd-983a-000077b07658.html#ixzz1vncFJpeNThe Kunstenfestivaldesarts – so cool it doesn’t need spacing – takes place over three weeks in theatres and exhibition spaces around Brussels. This year’s festival features premieres of works by choreographers Aydin Teker and Bruno Beltrão, and artists such as Dan Perjovschi, Benjamin Verdonck and New York-based Noah Fischer, noted for his “four-dimensional lo-tech installations” and collaborations with various theatre-makers and musicians. The festival will be the first chance to see the work of Japanese choreographer and dancer Zan Yamashita in Europe. His previous works include Sailors and It’s just me Coughing, winner of the Kyoto Art Center’s theatre award. Other highlights include the premiere of performance artist Kris Verdonck’s END, which depicts the final stages of society. The festival runs until the end of May. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/c2f14f0a-1de6-11dd-983a-000077b07658.html#axzz1vnc4ziTR

Matters of Art
Art Fag City: Best Art of 2006




Thwarting any expectation that our year end list making activities may have been completed, over the last two weeks we’ve been compiling a list of what we think are the best and worst exhibitions and talks of the year. The list obviously can only include those exhibitions we’ve seen, so if you are wondering why, for example, the Goya show at the Frick, Amy Sillman at Sikemma Jenkins or “Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran,Tourism and the American Landscape”, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum have been slighted, please bear in mind the inherent fallibility of a list put together by one person. You can only see so many shows, and sometimes you have to miss exhibitions you know you shouldn’t.



Bonus: Noah Fischer, Rhetoric Machine, at Oliver Kamm Gallery, (November 30-January 6th)

Last April or there abouts I saw Noah Fischer perform in a largish industrial space in Tribeca. In collaboration with three other artists, his performance using sequenced light was one of the best I had seen, but it never got written up here because I had foolishly not taken any notes, and every time I tried to explain it I made the work sound like a hokey theater production. Rhetoric Machine, which just closed at Oliver Kamm, is an installation that borrows many of the same lighting techniques he had used in that performance and building upon these devices to create a environment of speech making that highlights the construction of the political agendas they support. This work would be best showcased at The Kitchen, which has a long tradition of supporting political and performance based work.


New York Times: Noah Fischer, Rhetoric Machine

This young, Brooklyn-based artist has a winner of a first New York solo: a two-room, Rube-Goldbergesque kinetic environment set to a score of clips from doom-threatening speeches by United States presidents, ardent pop love songs and the baseline sound of jets and bombs. In sync with the soundtrack, low-tech, handmade light-projecting machines whir and jerk into life, turning the show into a combination of modernist ballet mécanique and gothic danse macabre. Technically ingenious and full of ideas, the show takes approximately 10 minutes to complete one sound-and-motion cycle. Oliver Kamm/5BE, 621 West 27th Street, (212) 255-0979, 5begallery.com, through Jan. 6. (Cotter)



Timeout New York



Rhetoric Machine, Noah Fischer’s two-room spectacle, combines flashing lights, sound effects, presidential speeches, pop songs and loaded American symbols. In the first room, a tiny silhouette of a man behind a podium stands on the floor at the apex of an inverted V formed by two rows of rough-hewn kinetic sculptures on poles. A plywood model of a tank projects a spotlight around the room from the barrel of its gun; a plaster eagle slowly raises and lowers skeletal wings with jagged feathers.

A soundtrack of speech-making Presidents—includng FDR, JFK, LBJ, Nixon a nd Clinton—expounds triumphalist American virtues and, in some cases, the dangers of the Red Menace. The lyrics of love songs act as a foil for this oratorical bombast: When Stevie Wonder’s voice is heard over the sound of explosions, the expression of hope in the face of devastation is unexpectedly moving.

The next room holds the mechanism that controls the son et lumire. A large plastic drum slowly revolves, and black foam strips attached to its surface trip simple switches (it works like a music box or player piano). Blinding 300-watt bulbs glare as the voice of the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan, tells the story of a young father who would rather see his children die than succumb to godless Communism. Applause cuts in, an eagle screams, and the whole program starts over.

As Fischer’s fantasia caricatures the rhetorical apparatus of America’s war-mongering past, it finds 21st- century echoes, suggesting we are forever doomed to “stay the course.” — Joseph R. Wolin


James Wagner: Noah Fischer at Oliver Kamm



It's an awesome piece and an awesome engineering feat as well. It's also a beautiful work of art, but it wouldn't have been possible without more than half a century of the mendacity or pure villainy of Americans with great power and the laziness or stupidity of us lesser folk.

Remember when you couldn't find art with a political element if your life depended on it? Unfortunately for the sake of many lives it's already too late.

Noah Fischer's Rhetoric Machine, installed at Oliver Kamm through January 6, specifically addresses the language of a diseased political environment which even the "unpolitical" are now finding increasingly impossible to ignore. From the gallery's statement:

Rhetoric Machine is a two-room kinetic installation that appropriates the language of movies, television, radio, and speechmaking. Presidential speeches and emotionally laced pop songs serve as the soundtrack for a sculptural light show that marches through the last sixty years, what many would call the golden age of American history. American icons such as an eagle, a tank, and a television set react variously to the soundtrack, creating what Sergei Eisenstein called an "intellectual montage" where jarring associations between light and sound lead to new meaning constructions, often charged with emotion.



New York Arts Magazine
Village Voice: short review

A homemade magic lantern throws swooping silhouettes of fighter jets across the walls and ceilings of this darkened gallery, while snippets of presidential speeches (Reagan delivering a classic better-dead-than-red bromide) and pop songs (Whitney's soaring "I-I-I will always love you!") provide the soundtrack for Fischer's installation Rhetoric Machine. Gears whirring, a straggly plaster eagle slowly flaps its skeletal wings amid clunky tape recorders, TVs, tanks, and other objects cobbled together from cardboard and plywood while the lightbulb eyes of a bulky robot flash. It's the bully pulpit as sardonic funhouse. Oliver Kamm/5BE, 621 W 27th, 212-255-0979. Through Jan 6. RC Baker