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ISSUES & COMMENTARY ART AND THE 99% From her vantage inside the movement, the author considers how Occupy Wall Street has affected artists. 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. Such hip luxuries are sold to the richest 1% in galleries that many ordinary people find too intimidating to enter. And it’s no secret that the moguls who sit on museum boards are often the same people who contrived the runaway financial speculation which has blighted economic life for the rest of us, in the U.S. and beyond. Clearly, it’s time for people of conscience in the art world to stand up and say, “Enough!” With Occupy Museums, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement that began in New York City on Sept. 17, 2011, the process may have already begun. In late October, several dozen artists gathered at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, OWS’s initial encampment. From there, traveling to the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Collection and the New Museum, they launched the first protest actions of Occupy Museums. Initiated by artist and OWS participant Noah Fischer, Occupy Museums aims to expose the disproportionate role that a handful of board members and fiscal sponsors (the 1%) play in determining the programming, acquisitions and administration of cultural institutions. Taking turns reading from a statement prepared by Fischer, the demonstrators stood outside and repeated the text line by line in a call-and-response system known as the “people’s mic,” a hallmark of OWS’s New York City General Assembly at Zuccotti Park. “Art for the 99%” is a valid slogan, but if we denounce only the most obvious inequalities in the art world, we risk forgetting how we have all been complicit in the current economic crisis. One error The art collective Build the Occupation protesting during the Occupy Halloween Parade, 2011. Photo Reuters/Andrew Burton. was abandoning our former resistance, our dedication to humane alternatives, and caving in completely to the marketonly syndrome. In the 1960s, the Art Workers Coalition challenged the elitism of the city’s major art institutions—a movement covered eloquently in Julia Bryan-Wilson’s book Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era (2009). The coalition fostered numerous alternative art spaces and practices, often in solidarity with marginalized groups such as women, people of color and the gay community. Over the last decades, however, once-radical organizations have seen their missions diluted by the corporate values of their funding institutions. Government cuts, which we failed to stop, have allowed corporations and wealthy patrons to grow increasingly dominant in the cultural sphere. Alanna Heiss founded P.S.1 (now MoMA P.S.1) in a former Queens schoolhouse in 1971. Once at the cutting edge of sitespecific work, P.S.1 today uses its idiosyncratic spaces as little more than overflow galleries for MoMA. In 1977, after being fired from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Marcia Tucker started the New Museum, a funky place where, for nearly 30 years, shows were inclusive and highly political. But since reopening in its sleek new building on the Bowery in 2007, the New Museum has repeatedly engaged in questionable practices, such as exhibiting the private collection of one of its board members. Smaller venues have fared little better. Under constant pressure from funders to do more with less, they stretch their staffs to the breaking point while relying on the goodwill of artists and independent curators to produce their projects. JANUARY’12 ART IN AMERICA 31 issues flow.indd 31 12/6/11 5:48 PM

Art and the 99%. Art in America

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