Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

“amazing!”

During his excellent and self-confessedly pessimistic lecture at yesterday’s 2012 Creative Time Summit, held at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, Slavoj Žižek urged the audience to see The Act of Killing, a recent documentary about atrocities committed during the 1965 anti-communist purge in Indonesia, and how some of the men responsible for the killing, imprisonment, and torture of perhaps as many as two and half million people (the figure I think given by Žižek) have not only never been prosecuted for war crimes or crimes against humanity, but are in fact celebrated and successful public figures. In a telling example from the film, as related by Žižek, some of the men are seen appearing on a talk show in which they openly boast about what they did to a young woman moderator who asks one of them, “When you had to torture the prisoners what approaches did you take?” He relates in detail how they figured out the best way to torture someone was by raping his female relatives in front of him, going into great detail on the most effective methods they devised to restrain, torture, and rape these women. The young lady moderator then says, “Amazing, let’s give Mr. (Anwar?) a round of applause.”

“Amazing,” an obscenity! However this anecdote was also amusing–squeeze some lemon on that word and salt it as well, of course–because the Creative Time Summit’s first day was marked by a relentless positivism embodied in its chosen style of presentation, a style derived from the equally relentlessly positivistic and corporatized TED Talks:  in this format speakers are expected to be able to condense their work into a short and inspiring talk preferably not speaking from any notes and delivered through a wireless mike so that you can move freely and energetically around the stage. The word “amazing” was used liberally, notably by the organizers. Many of the speakers were indeed AMAZING but it is a crucial semiotic point that this style and format, enabled and dictated by the available technology, comes to the university and art world from the corporate world, in the Steve Jobs super salesmanship genre, thus they carry political DNA from these sources while other methods of presentation and thus of knowledge and political valence are suppressed. It makes one quake in one’s boots to think about Derrida, Foucault, or Lacan, under the Darwinian imperative to adapt, learning how to package their message in such a manner though maybe, clever fellows all, they too would have gotten with the program.

So the current cultural imperative is that you have to speak within the corporate salespitch format about some “amazing” thing you have done to prove that the world can be made a better place, unlike Žižek who introduced his talk by saying “You won’t get good news from me.”

Creative Time Director Nato Thompson cast himself in the part of Jimmy Fallon or perhaps a rather more 1960s style of exuberant game show host, and the audience was relentlessly encouraged to use social media and tweet the hell out of the event, which was being livestreamed and followed on Twitter, in fact after two of the short breaks in the proceedings a young woman (wirelessly miked of course) came out to read some of the tweets, which apparently were mostly commentary on what Nato was wearing. Only one fellow from Armenia was quoted as Tweeting that the conference was taking place and was being live-streamed. The AMAZINGness of  instant interconnectedness was somehow muted for me since though a fairly indefatigable Facebooker, as so often happens at events that cruise on their technological sophistication, in the auditorium my iPhone could not get onto any of the so called free wi-fi networks labelled NYU this or that, my 3G connection was crappy, and my battery began to run low: the very elegant new auditorium should really have electrical outlets next to every seat, even the Peter Pan, Bolt, and other bus lines offers better wi-fi and plugs to their patrons these days. Why not just acknowledge that everyone these days is paying at least 50% attention to their iPhones while they are studying or teaching, working, walking, mothering, or at the theater, since doing everything private in public, thereby losing the true meaning of the public realm, was one of Žižek’s primary themes, aborted by the walk-off drumming that people started booing>OK some people are bores, time has to be controlled when there are multiple speakers, but this time around Žižek had promised us a semi-positive ending, which we never really got, and maybe that’s really the whole point, despite the predominance of the word AMAZING used by many of the presenters, not the artists I hasten to add, but by the Creative Time team.

The tone of the affair and the style of presentation was in significant contradistinction to a numbers of important presentations and events. First and let’s get it out of the way, two presenters, Hip hop artist Rebel Diaz and Cairo-based art collective Mosireen, had pulled out of the event at the last minute to protest that an Israeli organization was listed as one of the affiliated supporters of the event. The audience listened to reports and some commentary from presenters about these cancellations mostly in a silence that I could not possibly interpret other than my own reasons for it–a silence I must maintain because it is such a painful subject in which political realism of one kind, Israeli policies towards the Palestinians that I along with many Israelis find hard to countenance, meets political realism of another kind, which is the much more complex political history of the area and the real threats to Israel that cannot be denied, meets political realism of yet another kind, which is my own preternaturally calibrated sensitivity to any burgeoning under-any-other- name of antisemitism, meets political realism of yet another kind, which is that peer pressure is enormous to agree with the boycott, as yesterday, among many, artist Michael Rakowitz began his presentation by saying, “I’m a Jew, from Great Neck [Long Island], and I support the boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions.” A number of bloggers immediately got on the case–I can’t write or think that fast so here is Hyperallergic editor Hrag Vartanian’s report from yesterday thus in actual time on some of the details, and some artists including eco-artist Aviva Rahmani on Facebook commented on the group think and the lack of serious discussion around this announcement.

Today @ the Creative Time Summit, there was a lot of attention to a couple artists & their supporters who absented themselves in protest because they are endorsing the cultural boycott against Israel and an Israeli cultural group has been a CT partner. The boycott pre-empted, for me, attention to some wonderful artists doing wonderful work, such as Fernando Garcia-Dory, or the pleasure of visiting with old presenting friends, like Martha Rosler, Suzanne Lacy or John Malpedes. I just wrote Nato a protest letter about the lack of framing for this critical discussion and my concern that this would take over events planned for tomorrow. Personally, I profoundly deplore targeting artists because their governments have adopted unacceptable policies. If that were carried to the ultimate conclusion, no artists could ever speak to any other artists. But there is also the issue of conflating policies and peoples and how that invites, in this case, anti-semitism and ultimately, legitimizes Neo-Nazi behavior. Despite many wonderful presentations, such as Tom Finkelpearl or Laura Poitras, it was a disappointing experience of social justice practice.

According to Rahmani, in response to the protest, Creative Time “deleted the Israeli partner and took down the page of their supporters from their website. The streaming map deleted Israel.”

Afternoon keynote address speaker Tom Finkerpearl’s comments were as troubling as the cancellations, the boycott, and Creative Time’s scrubbing of Israel off the live-stream map. He said that though he admired these artists’ having the cohones (my words, not his) to cancel at the last minute, it was “bad for their career” (or did he say, “even if it was bad for their career”) and that “if you boycott Creative Time, where can you go?” I’m afraid I said out loud, “that’s ridiculous,” though I regret to say not out loud enough to be heard across the hall. Why ridiculous? Well, first because speaking both cynically but realistically, I can’t think of a better career move than to get some notoriety by taking  a widely held political position favored by the elite of the hippest part of the global artworld as represented by Creative Time, without actually showing up to show your work and espouse your protest publicly with some accountability, not to mention that for the Cairo-based group, it is also not only a matter of belief but of political safety. But most ridiculous because the world of political activism that Creative Time and Nato Thompson specifically embrace is the world in which Occupy Wall Street and other groups internationally, including some represented at the event, such as artist/activist Leonidas Martin, are trying to critique the global corporate culture we all live in and are subject to. Such a critique might include a critique of the elitism that is intrinsic to any such meeting at the heart of the artworld, and one held at an educational institution, New York University (my Alma Mater, at a time when, by the way, it wasn’t that big or fancy or RICH a place) which has seen its share of criticism for its enthusiastic embrace of global capital, including its recent plans for the destruction of the very neighborhood it exists in. Are we holding a gun to political artists’ heads and saying, hey, bud, it’s Creative Time, or a one way ticket to Palookaville?  That viewpoint sort of seems a bit neo-liberally arrogant.

The Creative Time Summit cost $65 including online fee for the one day I signed up for, and in a moment of cheapness brought about by the immediate effect of sticker shock at that $65, I had decided to skip the lunch offered, to be held at Judson memorial church–little realizing it was also an artwork,a sort of pedagogic political meal created by Conflict Kitchen, a take-out restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict–with the temporary result that as all my friends streamed into Judson Memorial Church, great refuge of the needy, I found myself standing outside temporarily nearly in tears at the economic (self-) exclusion, while painfully and belatedly aware that of course I would have to spend as much on any lunch in the neighborhood. [Personal note, lest anyone worry too much, all’s well that ends well, I did spend the same amount, but in the company of some really nice and interesting young people I ran into and was glad to talk to.]

Martha Rosler’s talk also raised, or rather did and didn’t raise, the question of the Summit’s relation to capital: she noted the irony that admission to the next incarnation of her on-going project, Garage Sale, forthcoming at MoMA, would cost up to $25 for those visitors to the museum who are not members. Since there were no audience questions at the Summit, one could only wonder why Rosler, who would have the cultural clout to do so, did not insist that admission be free to the museum during the time of her show, or, for example, since that would affect too high a percent of the museum’s admission fee income for two weeks, that anyone who participated in the Garage Sale by purchasing anything would get their admission refunded. How’s about that?

It’s not that alternatives to these situations aren’t happening all over the city and the world, small meetings in donated spaces that are happening probably every day here in New York City, where conversation follows the Occupy model or the standard panel model + audience participation–this event had no mikes set up in the aisles for audience response or questions, although a second day, today, allowed one to participate in smaller groups with some of the same participants–events where no one is paid and you fork over your dollar or so to help defray the cost of the beer. The point is, the 99%, the 47%, the struggling Occupy movement, and also the poverty of imagination of what could be the alternative to contemporary global capitalism that was addressed by Žižek, all seemed like fashionable shadows within the viewpoint of Creative Time as presented by some of its leaders and by the corporate-influenced presentational model it espoused.

Given all of these issues, having Tweets about Nato’s pants read out loud to us was one huge insult to our intelligence and situation.

In fact all this positivistic cheerleading was in significant contradistinction to the very interesting social subject matter brought into the space by many of the speakers and I would be remiss if I did not report on some of the highlights.

Going down my program in order, I was immensely impressed by the speakers who formed part of the first group, “Inequities,” including Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice, a very forceful public speaker; the work of the Belgrade-based collective Škart organizing choirs composed of anyone who responded to the call for an audition even if they had never sung in their life, the project’s focus on small communities made me think of the deeply moving power of close group folk singing, as one hears on archival recordings from the American South and as I once witnessed at a fest-noz in a small town in Brittany in the early 80s. Hito Steyerl gave an elegantly resonant talk, “Is the Museum a Battlefield,” tracking her research for a work about the debris of war found in a museum back to where they were made and produced,  finding herself in various corporate headquarters that all seemed to be designed by Frank Ghery, and eventually, in a circular process (literally making a circle with her hands for the feedback loop), finding that her research into the source of a  General Dynamics bullet led to a corporate headquarters housing her own art work.

There were a number of feminist interventions: Jodie Evans of CODEPINK and artist and activist Suzanne Lacy brought important examples of the recent feminist history of artwork about rape and called attention to the very important Women Under Siege Project. It was great to get to see a bit more footage of Pussy Riot, presented by artist and activist A.L. Steiner, dressed only in a transparent neon orange plastic jumpsuit, her body in revelatory bright lighting, her face in shadow. On the feminist email list-serve Faces there had been a certain amount of criticism of the feminism of Pussy Riot by some Eastern European feminist artists, on the other hand there has been a lot of publicity about them without necessarily more detailed awareness of their political views and I found myself very moved by being able to see some more of what they did, by the images of them performing in the church and on the wall of a snow covered redoubt in a huge square near the Kremlin. Steiner’s presentation echoed the daring and the vulnerability of Pussy Riot, pointing to what individual women face when they try to project their bodies and voices into a huge and mostly unreceptive to downright hostile world, here embodied in the artist’s presence, strongly confrontational yet riskily exposed, and in the way her mic check style call and response of feminist statements was absorbed and dampened by the hall’s acoustic environment, highlighting its deficit in terms of the spatial and auditory intimacy required for shared political purpose.

On the other hand the raucous humor of the various projects depicted by Barcelona based artist and activist Leonidas Martin was quite wonderful and contagiously funny although one of the best pieces was video of a bank occupation, when in a kind of flash mob event, people closed their accounts at a branch of a major bank and a huge crowd of revelers suddenly materialized, eventually even making an initially stunned woman banker burst out laughing. Humor is one of the most powerful and effective political weapons, so, one wondered, why couldn’t we do that here: unfortunately when that tactic was tried last year in New York at a Citibank branch a block down from NYU’s Skirball Center, the police arrived and arrested a bunch of activists as well as possibly innocent by-standers although the Occupy activists had purposefully dressed in business attire so it was a little hard to tell, but the hilarity of the Spanish scene was preemptively aborted.

However, if I close my eyes and think of the most interesting artwork I saw, without question one work stands out, and, perhaps significantly the artist was not there, only the artwork. This was Shooting Images, (or was the title Double Shooting? I wrote both down) a video presentation by Lebanese stage and film actor, playwright, and visual artist Rabih Mroué, taking as its premise the phenomenon recently noted in Syria of citizen journalists shooting their own deaths, often on their smart phone cameras. The video is extremely simple in its means, starting with its means of address: the artist uses white on black titles with the text in relatively small type to address us, speaking in the first person. Mroué established the double shooting: the double shooters: the gun and the camera. The photographer is always “hors champs” a film term for off camera, but I believe based on a military related term for off the field of battle, like “hors combat.” Mroué first presents the scene in such a way that it appears to be real footage, the sniper and the man with the camera, whose end is nearly identical with actual documentary footage from the past few months. Then he clarifies very specifically and intimately that this is a re-enactment he created with a friend and neighbor–the insistence on this at the end of the video I think is a commentary on the tragedy of a civil war where friends and neighbors may shoot one another. The video asks if there is a way to bring the victim into the frame, in the killer’s eyes? In a fascinatingly medium specific way he magnifies the sniper’s image until, within one pixel, is the image of the cameraman/victim, upside-down in the retina of his killer. Then the bond of the reciprocal homicidal gaze bounces back and forth between the two protagonists. The discovery of the victim’s face in a single pixel detail of the killer’s eye reverses a recurring theme of murder mystery novels and movies, the idea that what the murder victim last saw would be fixed upon his retina, a reverse image of the murderer, like an internal still CCTV image capture. This was a memorable work.

The question of medium specificity is important to me partly because my own visual medium, painting, typically does not appear at such events dedicated to art of social engagement except in the guise of third world or inner city folk art, for example in the presentation by the Indonesian activist group Taring Padi and in some images that were shown by Mexican art and social activists EDELO, among many very intriguing and suggestive works including theater pieces and contingent folk sculpture. The politics of this double standard is rarely discussed.

I left at 5 because I wanted to get home to write about the exhibition of Josef Albers Paintings on Paper, an exhibition at the Morgan Library closing this weekend–in that decision were multiple ironies, that I was leaving a fashionable art event inimical to painting in order to write about an artist who in fact I had always seen as didactic in a way that could be seen as part of the repressive politics of high modernism which contributed to my move towards feminism as a young artist. It’s probably not a good political move to have your feet planted in two arenas, the powers that be that have a stake in each may not appreciate the dual vision, but to me it is a more total and enriched position.

There is political art and there are also art politics, and by politics I mean not just specific political histories and narratives  but in general hierarchies and systems of power and privilege. Part of any political practice is to understand a field of action and to be able to hold in your head at least two things at the same time, that something can be very interesting, important, AMAZING even, and also occasionally problematic, with its internal power structures, which are often obscured. One always has to keep this in mind, which by the way is very different than dismissing it outright, and this is the purpose of this small intervention on my part into what was a very interesting and instructive event.

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The presentations I’ve discussed above are now online (scroll down the site for individual presentations mentioned here) although it is important to point out that what you see online spatially and relationally to the original audience in the Skirball Center is the TV show view, with speakers seen in close up as well as occasionally in long shot, rather the audience’s theatrical experience of the speakers as small and less distinct figures on a large and, for many there, distant, stage. In lieu of a comments section here, see the contentious, interesting discussion which took place over a three day period on my original Facebook posting of this piece.

 

 

 

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A Tale of Two Empty Squares + 1

For the past ten years on September 11, I’ve republished a text I wrote in the weeks after that day, to bring the texture of the event as witnessed by so many New Yorkers with their own eyes and of daily life in Lower Manhattan in the days and weeks afterwards. But this year I don’t feel like it. My need to continue the memory has been interrupted by the National September 11 Memorial which I visited November 15, 2011, for which friends and I had reserved tickets two months in advance and which turned out to be on the same day that a police raid had evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park.

That day I wrote down my impressions, perhaps today eleventh anniversary is the day to publish them.

My initial notes as written in bold face on the spot went as follows: 9/11, 45 min wait, airport security, bad vibes, hideous entrance, bad plaza (Starbucks, Metropark architecture & lamps), terrible compromise but the two pools are dark, black abyss, death, a cold corporate architecture really works,  it looks both small and huge, like a simulacral sea, it’s the opposite of the Towers of Light, what goes up via light into dark here cascades down into dark.

Getting to the entrance of the memorial is an ordeal, today (November 15, 2011) an ordeal twice over. First the issue was how walk past Zuccotti Park without having time to stop to photograph the police occupying the Park. Then, corner Thames and Albany Streets, the interminable and graceless line to get into the Memorial.

This is not a promising beginning to the memorial experience. You shouldn’t have to make an appointment to visit a memorial. Even if admission is free, grief must be free to roam and it must be integrated into daily life, here the grid of Lower Manhattan, to be both special and a silent partner, there if you want it, when you want it. Last fall, a two-month wait for a daylight hour visitor’s pass was followed by a 45 minute wait in a line effectively several blocks long though snaked through police barricades on the South side of the WTC construction site (to the accompaniment of construction noise that would certainly drown out any noise from OWS). We went through three checkpoints with our visitor’s pass, only to find ourselves at the end of the line in a chaotic mini-airport security situation, with metal detectors, put your coat and bag in a plastic bin (you don’t have to take off your shoes, thank goodness given how chaotic the situation was, I figured the logic of that was that if you blew yourself up you wouldn’t take anyone else with you though the logistics were such that people would be trampled in the line slowed down). Then down another bleak work barricaded back area, and finally into the Memorial Park…you hardly know once you have entered because there is no entrance as such. So far, bad vibes and not because of memories of why you have come, in fact the wait is so unpleasant that by the time you’ve been on line for an hour or so, you forget the reason you came.

The plaza won’t help you remember. It’s really spectacularly mediocre, New Jersey Transit/ Metropark train station parking lot atmosphere including the lamps, at the moment rather silly looking trees that somehow never transcend the function of little architectural model fake trees.

The plaza has no sense of scale. Perhaps if and when the area is no longer a work site and if in that case there is free access from the streets around, there will be a flow into the life of the city, that might make it better, but as my friends pointed out, the plaza at the World Trade Center was always a cold windswept bad space. Still, we imagined various alternatives: the last vestige of facade, the bronze orb, damaged yet intact, or just the gravel of a Japanese rock garden would be better. Best would be a flat plain space with no adornment, just gravel or marble, the trees are silly, a false niceness.

The pools are the thing itself, death, loss, the abyss, the unknown.

You approach the first pool set into the footprint of the North Tower.  It is both small and huge, it seems as large as an inland sea, though a strangely simulacral one, like in a sci-fi movie, yet too small to have been the footprint of such a tall building, and though ocean-like, probably the water is only one foot deep.

Inner Sea, a work on paper I did in 1981, from a dream of a vast sea within the interior of an urban structure

A shower of  water cascades down the four dark stone walls of the giant square into the darker seemingly bottomless abyss of the inner square at the bottom of the pool.The water passes through a kind of comb that subtly recalls the e style arches of the WTC facade, though here the pattern goes downwards.

The design of the pools is brutal, corporate, and it really works.

Morning of September 11, 2012

As the reading of the names proceeds in the background, a kind of musical chairs game of  loss–on whose name will the reader stop to reveal their particular relation of grief?–  I  get out James E. Young’s At Memory’s Edge: After Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture, and look again as some of the examples of “counter-memorials” in Germany in the 1990s, including from among the submissions  to a 1995 competition for a German National “memorial to murdered Jews of Europe.,” in the chapter “Memory, Countermemory, and the End of the Monument: Horst Hoheisel, Micha Ullman Rachel Whiteread, and Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock.”

Artist Horst Hoheisel … proposed a simple, if provocative antisolution to the memorial competition: blow up the Brandenburg Tor, grind its stone into dust, sprinkle the remains over its former site, and cover the entire memorial area with granite plates. How better to remember a destroyed people than by a destroyed monument?…Hoheisel’s proposed destruction of the Brandenburg Gate participates int eh competition for a national Holocaust memorial, even as its radicalism precludes the possibility of its execution. At least part of its polemic, therefore, is directed against actually building any winning design,  against ever finishing the monument at all. Here he seems to suggest that the surest engagement with Holocaust memory in Germany may actually life in its perpetual irresolution, that only an unfinished memorial process can guarantee the life of memory.

Some more general remarks by Young have bearing on the type of memorial that has become the default style in the United States, first expressed in Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial which so brilliantly melded modernist abstraction with literary content-the names etched on the marble surface. Lin’s piece has a quality of the antimemorial, as it is set into the earth and is quite un-obstrusive in the landscape, really it is an inscription into the earth (see picture on Wikipedia site as observed from above) until you are right up along it where only at its center does it reach above the visitor’s head. A visit to it is a surprise, because it just kind of appears as you walk towards it and its meaning can only be understood through walking by with your body and observing other people interacting with it. It’s intimate. What the designers of the 9/11 have borrowed from Lin is the most successful, thus architect Michael Arad‘s design for the pools and his use of inscribed names. The landscaping is clearly a huge concession to the demands of urban planners, politicians, victims’ families, and real estate forces who would not have understood a less utilitarian and conventional approach.

Like other cultural and aesthetic forms in Europe and North America, the monument–in both idea and practice–has undergone a radical transformation over the course of the twentieth century. As intersections between public art and political memory, the monument has necessarily reflected the aesthetic and political revolutions, as well as the wider crises of representation, following all of the century’s major upheavals–including both World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War, the rise and fall of communist regimes in the former Soviet Union and its Eastern Europeans satellites. In every case, the monument reflects both its sociohistorical and its aesthetic context: artists working in eras of cubism, expressionism, socialist realism, earthworks, minimalism, or conceptual art remain answerable to the needs of both art and official history. The result has been a metamorphosis of the monument from the heroic, self-aggrandizing figurative icons of the late nineteenth century celebrating national ideals and triumphs to the antiheroic, often ironic, and self-effacing conceptual installations that mark the national ambivalence and uncertainty of late twentieth-century postmodernism.

A number of the monuments described in the book seem to have a relevance to the 9/11 Memorial. Artist Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz‘s The Hamburg Monument Against War and Facism and for Peace, from 1986, was a “forty-foot high, three foot-square pillar ..made of hollow aluminum plated with a thin layer of soft dark lead. Visitors were invited to inscribe their own names on the monument with a steel pointed stylus and as soon as a five foot section was filled with names it sank “into a chamber as deep as the column was high.” Over seven years the monument disappeared. “The best monument, in the Gerzes’ view, may be no monument at all, but only the memory of an absent monument.”

An unrealized project submitted to the 1995 competition by Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock also stays in my mind: Bus Stop–The Non Monument proposed “an open-air bus terminal for coaches departing to and returning from regularly scheduled visits to several dozen concentration camps and other sites of destruction throughout Europe.” The artists called for “a single place whence visitors can board a bright red bus at a regularly scheduled time for a nonstop trip both to such well-known sites as Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Dachau and to the lesser known massacre sites in the east, such as Vitebsk and Trawniki.” Finally, “at night the rows of parked and waiting buses, with their destinations illuminated, would become a kind of “light sculpture” that dissolves at the break of day into a moving mass to reflect what Bernd Nicolai has called “the busy banality of horror.”

You know that the designers of the 9/11 Memorial were well versed in the history of these memorials and countermemorials.

November 15, 2011

Speaking of unwelcoming windswept spaces, on my way home I circled Zuccotti Park, now occupied by the NYPD, with Occupy Wall Street, ordinary New Yorkers, and the press occupying the periphery. In a weird topsy turvy opposites world, the police now occupied the park, and the occupiers surrounded them.

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The problems of the 9/11 memorial and the political atmosphere that led to the Occupy movement are linked, as  the reaction of the United States to the attacks of September 11 in some way was a disturbing mirror image of the forces that attacked on September 11 (a mirroring described in the 2004 BBC Documentary The Power of Nightmares, which posits parallels between the rise of the American Neo-Conservative movement and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and noting strong similarities between the two. In a way the destruction of the United States continued via its own internal processes of paranoia and ulterior political motives unrelated to the actual event–let’s just start its wasting  of resources on a war on the “wrong” country…many others have developed these ideas better than I can do.

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The truest antimemorials to 9/11 were perhaps the modest, temporary ones that sprang up on the site in the months after September 11, and the simple constructions on the site that were built for early anniversary observances.

Site of the World Trade Center, cardboard circle, September 11, 2002, New York City

And the most outstanding memorial remains The Towers of Light, or The Tribute in Lights. It seemed last year that we were seeing the last of them as authorities were grumbling about electricity costs. But tonight as in the past several years I’m going downtown to get as close to them as I can.

I don’t plan to go back to the Memorial until it is, if ever, integrated into the flow of the city, and I can walk there as my feet and spirit take me. That would be what–one little fragment of–democracy looks like.

 

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“Books are like people”

When the NYPD raided the Occupy Wall Street Encampment at Zuccotti Park this morning, they tossed  the 5,554 books that were assembled from donations into The People’s Library, an extemporaneous institution with a proper librarian and its own website,  into dumpsters.

According to the story as reported this morning on mediabistro.com: “According to the city’s eviction notice, the “property will be stored at the Department of Sanitation parking garage at 650 West 57th St.” But the librarians dispute this: “it was clear from the livestream and witnesses inside the park that the property was destroyed by police and DSNY workers before it was thrown in dumpsters.”

The People’s Library, set into the North East corner of the Park near the corner of Broadway and Liberty Street, was one of the most beautiful aspects of the occupation site.

The legality of the eviction is being ejudicated (after the barn door…) as I type, but the city junked everything nonetheless. I hope and I believe that Occupy Wall Street will be back there, and will figure out a new way to outwit the authorities. But if anyone thinks that once set into motion, there couldn’t have been anyway for the police to preserve the books, a story occurs to me.

In 2002 the art historian Leo Steinberg was awarded the College Art Association’s Distinguished Scholar Award He gave, as always and ever, a profoundly interesting but also in this case unexpectedly moving speech. The speech was republished in its entirety in the Brooklyn Rail in 2006, and here are some excerpts that have come to my mind today:

Before proceeding to professional matters, I’d like to recall two bits of family lore from my early years in Moscow, where I was born. I was three, sitting alone, humming a Russian children’s song to myself. In translation:

Little finch, little finch, where have you been?

—Down at the market, drinking vodka.

Hearing this performance, a visiting grown-up asked, did I know what vodka was? Now, the Russian for water is Vadá, and Vodka is its diminutive. So, being asked about vodka, I replied, “Eto málinkaya Vadá”—“it’s small water.” I confess to this story, because it signals an early tendency to address the signifier instead of the signified.

One other tale from this Russian phase I do not believe; at least not in the form my father claimed to have recorded in his diary—which has not survived. At age 3 and a half, looking at father’s bookshelves, I’m supposed to have said:

“Books are like people.”

“How so?”

“Well, the covers are their clothes, and the letters are their teeth, and if you don’t read them, they feel hungry.”

I discount this story because you hate to think that your imagination peaked at age three and the rest all downhill.

Soon after, we escaped Soviet Russia, arriving in Berlin on November 2, 1923, three weeks before my younger sister was born.

My parents were Socialists, and one day in December 1932 they took me along to visit a Socialist bookshop, whose owner my father wanted to speak to. While the grown-ups talked, I browsed along the shelves and soon pulled down one of the few books in the shop that had nothing to do with politics: Richard Hamann’s The Early Renaissance of Italian Painting, Jena 1909, in its first printing of 30,000: 50 pages of text, plus notes at the back (none of which interested me); and 200 full-page gray-and-white reproductions of paintings by artists with sonorous names, the like of which I had never heard uttered—Pollaiuolo, Ghirlandaio, Piero di Cosimo.

I was enchanted, and couldn’t stop looking—from that day to this. And when, after too short an hour, I was told we were leaving, I would not reshelve the book, but showed it to mother and asked timidly (for I knew we had little money)—could we buy it? Mother glanced at the price, shook her head, and looked quickly away; and all those images to vanish forever. And then a miracle happened: the bookseller turned to my father and said, “Look, any day now Hitler will be coming to power [as indeed Hitler did five weeks later, January 30, 1933], and the first thing the Nazis will do is close this shop. So why don’t you just take the book for your boy.”

I have the book still, inscribed in pencil in a 12-year-old’s hand, “1932, for Chanukah.”

At this point Steinberg held the book up, “and here is the book.” I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s the only time I’ve ever burst into tears at an art history conference.

But it is the final story he told about the importance of books that is most relevant to today’s depradations by the NYPD:

A year later. We had escaped Hitler early and by late May 1933 were settled in London, where people spoke a language I neither knew nor approved. In English classes at school, if we were told to read and report on a Dickens novel, my practice was subtly subversive. I would bicycle to the public library way out in Hendon, borrow a German translation of Oliver Twist, read it, and then do my report.

One day in 1934, I was on my bicycle with half a dozen library books strapped on behind, coasting downhill. You have to remember that in those days cars in suburban London were scarce, streets had maybe one or two cars parked, and little traffic. So, as I came speeding down, I suddenly saw people waving at me from the sidewalk. I stopped, turned around, and froze in horror. The strap had come loose, my books strewn across the roadway, a bus bearing down to ride over them, and me, condemned to stand by at their massacre, for I had a great sense that books, borrowed ones especially, must be treated with tenderness. They’re like people, remember?

But then—another miracle: the juggernaut slowed and made a careful detour around my books. I choked up—knew from this moment that I had passed into a different culture. Rightly or wrongly, I felt that this could not have happened in Germany, where, on May 10, 1933, my Uncle Aron had taken my older sister and me to watch the Nazi burning of books.

And so I made peace with England, where I would spend the next twelve years, trying to learn the local jargon, so I could eventually be published in The Art Bulletin.

It is possible even in the midst of whatever dynamic event to respect a book, a book is not trash, except in crypto-, proto-, wannabe-fascist/fascist-lite regimes. But you know, Mayor Bloomberg, you may have trashed those books, but I’m happy to say that New Yorkers have enough great books they have no room for in their apartments to create a 100 new People’s Libraries. It will be reconstituted.

screen-shot-2011-11-15-at-2-26-01-am from The People's Library website

Update, 9:47PM: the trashing of the OWS People’s Library and the fate of the books have been discussed and reported on all day, with conflicting threads of information: if you watch Amy Goodman’s excellent coverage from the middle of the night raid itself, it is very hard to believe that any of the books would have survived the raid at all, much less in the way that coverage on the Gothamist later in the day seemed to indicate. This evening Rachel Maddow mentioned the impact of the closing of the Borders in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood and the paucity of nearby New York Public Library branches as reasons that families living in the area were bringing their kids to OWS just to read some children’s books.

The minute that people were let back into the park at about 5:45PM, they began to put some books out and a while later the library website announced that “The People’s Library Re-Opens.”

Update November 16, 1:50PM, The People’s Library issued an update this morning after going to the Department of Sanitation’s facility on the West Side to see what could be retrieved based on Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that everything was intact. Most of the Library books, equipment, and furniture are missing, what remains is often in poor condition. Attempts to begin restoring the library have met with police interference, according to American Libraries, the magazine of The American Library Association:

Tents and tarps are strictly forbidden in Zuccotti Park now. During the reoccupation on the evening of November 15, it started to rain so library staff put a clear plastic trash bag over the collection. Within minutes a detail of about 10 police descended and demanded that the covering be removed because they deemed the garbage bag to be a tarp. There were a few tense minutes as staff tried to convince them otherwise, but ultimately it was removed—leaving the collection open to the elements. As the police withdrew, scores of people chanted “BOOKS … BOOKS … BOOKS … BOOKS.” There was still concern that the park might be cleared again that night, and one officer made it clear that “unclaimed property will be removed and disposed of” in reference to the collection. Library staff quickly set up umbrellas over the bulk of the books and began sending librarians home with bags of books to keep the collection safe in remote locations.

Update November 17, from Occupy Wall Street Library, the game of cat and book continues (video here):

The NYPD seized the People’s Library again tonight. We set up the library again today with 100 books, and the police came over this evening and stood in a line around the books, blocking anyone from reaching the books by creating a fence with their batons. The officers then ordered the Brookfield property sanitation crew to throw them in a trash can. We photographed it all, and video is available on the blog here. The police were asked why they were taking the books and one officer said “I don’t know.”

Bible, among books from the People's Library, after the November 15 NYPD eviction/raid, an image I believe should go viral (as an example of "what Democracy looks like" when police in riot gear are deployed against unarmed civilians by elected officials who claim to support the First Amendment while rushing to suppress dissent).

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A Discussion on Facebook About “Occupy Museums”

This morning artist Noah Fischer posted on Facebook an announcement for Occupy Museums:

Occupy Museums!

Speaking out in front of the Cannons

 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. We believe that the Occupy Wall Street Movement will awaken a consciousness that art can bring people together rather than divide them apart as the art world does in our current time…

 Let’s be clear. Recently, we have witnessed the absolute equation of art with capital. The members of museum boards mount shows by living or dead artists whom they collect like bundles of packaged debt. Shows mounted by museums are meant to inflate these markets. They are playing with the fire of the art historical cannon while seeing only dancing dollar signs. The wide acceptance of cultural authority of leading museums have made these beloved institutions into corrupt ratings agencies or investment banking houses- stamping their authority and approval on flimsy corporate art and fraudulent deals.

 For the last few decades, voices of dissent have been silenced by a fearful survivalist atmosphere and the hush hush of BIG money. To really critique institutions, to raise one’s voice about the disgusting excessive parties and spectacularly out of touch auctions of the art world while the rest of the country suffers and tightens its belt was widely considered to be bitter, angry, uncool. Such a critic was a sore loser.

 It is time to end that silence not in bitterness, but in strength and love! Because the occupation has already begun and the creativity and power of the people has awoken! 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!

Day 1, Thursday Oct. 20th: Revised Schedule:
3:00 Meet at Liberty Park
Teach-in about the museums we are going to occupy
4:15 Livestream- read document in front of 5000 viewers.
Occupy the 4 train
5:00 Occupy MoMA
hours: 10:30-5:30
11 W 53rd street New York, NY
Occupy the M3 Bus
6:00 Occupy Frick Collection
hours: 10:00-6 PM
1 East 70th Street, New York, NY
Occupy the 6 train
7:00 Occupy New Museum
Thursdays 6-8 free
235 bowery
Via: Noah Fischer, Occupy Museums organizer.

[For further details see Noah Fischer’s Facebook page or mine.]

***

I found that this proposed action gave me pause and it seemed like a good topic for a Facebook discussion, which it has proved to be. I appreciate everyone’s point of view and engagement in the issues. Because not all my friends are on Facebook at all or look at FB that much, and during the day I got an email from Naeem Mohaiemen about where other than Facebook the discussion could be followed [he noted that as luck would have it will be showing a video at the New Museum during the planned protest]. So I thought it would be interesting to repost the conversation that took place today here, with the permission of my Facebook friends’ who participated, since a monologue on my part without the context would miss the point of the conversation.

This following is the conversation from about noon today to 6:30PM:

Mira Schor: I have some ambivalence about this, I’m not sure why. Yes museums have been sucked into the money entertainment mode with corporate corruption, where edge & marginality either commodified or taken out altogether, and with entrance fees prohibitive to the general public. The trend towards the corporate and the art and entertainment market has been especially damaging to the New Museum’s legacy, and especially hurtful for me as a viewer at MoMA, the favored haunt of my youth, where a private relation to art is now hard to come by (though a private relation to an individual art object is something equally critiqued by the current vanguard of social engagement art)…yet some good work is done there as well. I picketed MoMA when it reopened in 1984 with practically no women in its reopening show (see pictures at bottom of this post from that demonstration), but now I don’t feel a visceral response that this is something I can do even though it might be politic or dare I say it , fashionable, to appear to be at the cutting edge of political rebellion. But I’m open for discussion & would love to hear what some of my friends think of this Occupy Museums gesture

Richard Worthington-Rogers: my favorite targets are banks not museums

Mira Schor:  well they are linked, major big city museums’ increased engagement in the out of control capitalism that has infected all parts of life is a tangible problem for all art and I understand that young artists would want to make their mark on that part of the profession

Richard Worthington-Rogers: I understand…perhaps i’m just old school and would rather lob a rock through a bank window than a museum….additionally, if the Koch Bros are funding the opera at lincoln center then action should be taken at the opera NOT a museum.

Amy Sillman: here’s how old I am: I wish they’d spell canon right.

Mira Schor: Amy..I feel the same way about the Bell Hooks poster making the rounds of Facebook with chauvinism misspelled as chauvanism

Mira Schor: re the Koch Brothers and the opera, yes !

Amy Sillman: down w/ the koch bros, but up w/ opera.

Amy Sillman: ‎(i didnt mean that like “i’m down with” but as in, bad koch bros)

Chris Kasper: I’m on the fence too. And I like the issue you raise regarding “rebellion fashion”. I think there is some of that at play here. However, museums have become more and more, extensions of banks and other corporate institutions…Moma and other museums high entrance fees keeps what it has too offer for an audience of a certain demographic ,that excludes blue collar citizens (including many of those with mfas) The coroporate culture in museums is echoed in the fear and intimidatiom common in their employees, and breeds nepotism and sychophants. This extends out to many, if not most artists who have not established themselves yet. While I think some of what you raise is totally valid, I do lean more to liking the occupy museum idea more. With the exception of a less puritanical set of values with regards to having embraced gay culture long before it was fashionable, the artworld is still quite conservative in that it favors white males as who it holds up as successful (this is one issue I agree w J Saltz on). If it is better in the artworld for women and people of color than other industries, it isn’t much better. Especially for the people employed by these institutions. We should’nt pat ourselves on the back for being a progressive field at this point. Ask the mostly men who are moving crates and installing the massive works, or the mostly women at the desks with the pressure to dress way out of their salary level at 17.9% apr how progressive an industry we are.

Mira Schor: Chris what you say is true, interesting, much to think about, and only 24 hours to think about it [actually there is no date set on Noah’s original post]…as for who has critiqued the white male content of museums first best, or with most risk….but yes, no illusions as the progressive nature of the mainstream art world

Brian Sg: occupy art school, the biggest rip off there is

Amy Sillman: hey Brian Sg: did you go to art school? which one? i’m just curious because I teach at an art school (Bard MFA) and i’m not sure if they think it’s the biggest ripoff there is! I’ll ask the students, though.

Betty Tompkins: do any of you know the recording about the mccarthy era called “the investigator”? this is starting to remind me of that.

Lori Ellison: Not sure if the museums are the right focus.

Martha Willette Lewis: a lot of museums have suggested donations and I balk at the idea that what they charge (excepting MoMa- that really is extortionate) is too much: going to the movies costs a lot now, cable tv costs a lot , all of these electronic gadgets costs a lot as does wifi- the museums NEED this money. I am sad to see them pander to popular tastes but they are doing it to attract audiences, stay relevant and stay in operation. I don’t think I can support this- museums have given me hours of pleasure, taught me, entertained me. why not “occupy art auctions”instead?they seem much more directly culpable…

Lori Ellison: There was a protest at an art auction several weeks ago.

Martha Willette Lewis: this makes me really, really sad…

Mira Schor:  The museums are a probably as legitimate a focus for demonstration as any other in the sense of getting a discussion going..it’s all in the timing. There were people demonstrating against MoMA when the new building opened and the director Glenn Lowry was utterly dismissive of the demonstrators (artists/activists), I can’t remember if he had them arrested or simply mocked them

Amy Sillman: I think since OWS is about BANKS AND MONEY AND WALL STREET as much as anything else, then the suggestion to occupy art AUCTION HOUSES is really interesting!

Betty Tompkins: almost all museums have a free evening. While I admire the energy of the occupy everything everywhere movement, I do have to wonder why they have not focused on governments that allow all this. i also wonder why huge job fairs have not been organized at the park.

Mira Schor: that’s already happened a bit Amy, some demonstrations recently .

Steven Nelson: Museums are intertwined with money and our current corporate mess, but it’s not museums that got us into the economic and social mess we face today. On MoMA admission, it bears noting that one can go there for free on Fridays after 4pm.

Amy Sillman: well, I’m going to stand on my pedestal today and say that what should be occupied is Sothebys, Phillips de Pury, etc. these are places where NOTHING GOOD happens at all. I’d LOVE to go out and protest the whole system of auctioning the work of living artists.

Oriane Stender: This Occupy Museums thing is misguided. It would help if the writer were more articulate. “Speaking out in front of the Cannons”? Beyond the misspelling, what does this mean?

Mira Schor: I think that there is a generation of young artists who were caught up in the intersection between the corporatization of education as of museums, and actually expected to enter the art market and succeed, financially, and I’m sorry were perhaps not sufficiently critical of any part of that. Now they are hugely in debt and of course most artists never make enough from their art or any other profession associated with art to pay back that kind of debt, so they are angry. I was on a panel at Cabinet last year about art education put together by Colleen Asper and Ad Hoc Vox.

The most interesting thing to me that cold winter night was the audience, which was packed to the rafters with thirty-ish Brooklyn-based New York artists, all seemingly wearing black–it seemed like everyone had a two day stubble, also black, and heavy eyeglass frames, also black– fixing those of us on the panel with the most intense and angry expressions on their faces, hoping we would explain to them why their incredibly expensive educations were worth the debt they had incurred.

Art has been just as shaped by the economic boom and the highly reactionary politics of the last 30 years as any other part of our culture. Although I still go to MoMA, I feel like the place where I spent my youth in a close personal private relationship with art works in an intimate space rather than a tourist destination, that space is no more. I’m sorry for those who never had it. Perhaps it is just more of a betrayal when suddenly the rose colored glasses come off and you realize you’ve been sold a bill of goods that can’t sustain you as an artist, literally and spiritually. For me, it helps to have never “believed” in art market essentialism even though that never helped me economically but perhaps that’s precisely why I find this demonstration odd, because it seems to admit to a belief that has been disappointed.

Carol Salmanson: If the target is corporate money taking over museums, then the focus should be corporate money, not museums. Otherwise everyone’s energies will be scattered all over the place, while the corporate money will continue its deliberate and strategic placement, without accountability.

Oriane Stender: I’m not thrilled about corporate money having such an influence in museums, but since arts and culture get so much less government money than they used to get, corporate money keeps the institutions alive, so it’s not altogether a bad thing. It’s complicated. I’d rather the corporations give this money to museums than some other places they could put it, like right-wing think tanks or California’s Prop. 8. Yes, the $ comes with strings attached. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Etc.

Mira Schor: I don’t know if he will participate here, but Noah Fischer who posted this says he is glad if we are having a discussion, so I think that like everything about Occupy Wall Street, they are taking the chance of acting boldly, if not overtly programmatically, to provoke discussion, and the attention they are getting for that discussion will get media attention that perhaps earlier critiques did not get. The corporate structure and backing of MoMA will not be altered by any demonstration in the long run. I think the New Museum is more ripe for a critique, given the honorable countercultural, counter art market direction of its founding mother, Marcia Tucker, much altered by the cold glitz of the current institution and the amusingly repressive reactions it has on occasion had to internal efforts at institutional critique.

Noah Fischer:  Wall Street is a symbolic Altar of Greed: a fitting place to start this movement, but the movement is much bigger than banks and packaged debt and bailouts. To me, its fundamentally about waking up from a bad dream in which our society has lost cohesion- the country doesn’t work for most people- people have forgotten how to work together. And while this has gone on, the wealthiest 1% have walked away with the government..and the culture- witness an era of luxurious art fairs while millions are losing home and jobs. So much about museums today reflects a top-down society where the rest of us are supposed to be mesmerized by the glamour at the top. We Occupy the big museums as both real ties to Wall Street fraud money and as symbols of a culture thats been stolen from the 99% by the elites. When we Occupy Museums, we’ll be announcing and demonstrating a new era of culture that is for everyone.

Noah Fischer: We can Occupy Auctions next week!

Oriane Stender: Re Mira’s observation about the anger young people have about their student debt: Yes, the MFA diploma mill is a giant ponzi scheme. But you are all college-educated and smart people. Did you really think, after the number of people attending art schools kept increasing, that there would be enough tenure track jobs for everyone? Galleries and collectors enough for everyone? This is exactly why I didn’t get an MFA. I did the math (and I’m no math genius). Go into debt to get a degree that a whole bunch of underemployed people have? No thanks. Sorry you drank the Kool-aid, guys. But it was labeled.

Goran Tomcic: If I remember correctly, more then a decade ago there was a huge issue with Whitney and Phillip Morris, i.e. should a tobacco company be a sponsor of the arts. Now we have Deutsche Bank being a major sponsor of Frieze Art Fair, and it had borrowed its name to the Guggenheim in Berlin: Deutsche Guggenheim even has a bank logo on the building facade. I recently closed my Deutsche Bank account as I felt I was not treated correctly and because the bank sucked a lot of money from me in enormous fees just to keep my debit account open. I moved to another bank with less fees and now I am not one of those sponsoring Frieze or Deutsche Guggenheim. As per art schools, I think this is a misplaced call for an action: I went to the above-mentioned Bard MA program and didn’t have to pay as there are scholarships, etc. I believe the art schools need to be left out of this story.

Mira Schor: Noah et al, I’d like to recommend people take a look at the information about The Woman’s Building, now the subject of one of the Pacific Standard Time exhibitions, “Doin’ It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building. It was the most radical and complete experiment in a self-run politically directed education, really admirable.

As a faculty member in an MFA program, I’m torn, my students come in recent years not because they think they are going to make it, for the most part, but because they want to be in a central place where they can be exposed to new and challenging ideas (ideas that challenge their previous beliefs). Even though I feel increasingly confined by the situation, and miss terribly the atmosphere of creativity and freedom of the school I went to at the time I went to it, most of them feel that they get something for their education (though some, those who did drink the Kool Aid) also later feel terribly embittered by disappointment) and when I try to imagine alternatives to the MFA, as I discussed at Cabinet last year, you can see how rapidly necessities of institutionalization reconstruct themselves (after the first flush of experimentation, you need a space, you need money for rent, you need insurance, people need to be paid for their labor in teaching or maintaining etc…)..that’s why The Women’s Building was such an inspiring model.

Kate Kretz: Haven’t really thought about this. I am much more concerned/dismayed at the corporatization of higher education… I think that it’s going to transform this country, and makes me want to bail out to live in a place where education is the priority.

Oriane Stender: I would love to bail out. Anyone in Sweden want a middle-aged mail order bride??

Rocio Rodriguez: this whole thing is well intended but frankly…it waters down the real message…which in my view should start in occupying the capitol both houses of Congress. Once you start down this occupying street hell u can justify occupying anything. I say focus on what and who has created the problems and put us in the present economic situation. Start w/our ‘elected’ officials and demand an accounting there. A lot of $$$ passes through those halls, campaign contributions, lobbyists…they spend more time raising money for their next election than working on the country’s problems.

Goran Tomcic: Let me go back to my past and look at the former socialist countries education. It was required, grand and open (yes, it was open and they way to escape the system), and yet by the end of the 80’s there was nobody left who wanted to live in socialism and receive free education or free medical care. Now you go back to those former socialist countries and the first thing you notice is the luck of an education, nobody is reading the Classics any longer, and now we are just like the rest of the West.

Mira Schor: Rocio, I hope there are enough people to go around to focus on the multiple aspects of the culture and work in specific areas where they can have an impact, however momentary. In that sense I think it is worth doing, because the financial system needs critique, the corruption of the electoral process by money needs protest, and the art world and education are areas of culture that many of us here occupy. It’s a long term process and many contradictions. Revolutionary movements sometimes don’t have the time for contradiction until it takes them over, alas.

Ree Dykeulous: See W.A.G.E. |working artists and the greater economy. Fully budgeted/hugely endowed NY museums exploit cultural workers- aka their content providers

Rocio Rodriguez: Yes I agree with what you have said Mira the multiple aspects…they are all connected. I suppose that one only has so much time/resources to devote to protest and I see Washington as a central player to all of this and for me areas of culture are secondary (and I am an artist-who is totally dedicated to my profession) to the very present needs of many people who don’t have jobs, can’t pay for health insurance, and are worried about keeping their house. In any case its a mess all around. thx for the discussion.

Betty Tompkins: one of the huge differences in art/art education is that when I was a student we were told flat out that we should not come to NYC with the expectation of making it big or even making it small very quickly. we were told that it takes time to mature as an artist and that you did this on your own, outside of the gallery system. Today’s grads think an mfa is the same as an mba. It is not.

Mira Schor: here are some views on Hyperallergic to add to the mix. “Is Occupying Museums Misguided?” “A protest is slated for tomorrow that intends to “occupy” the Frick Museum, MoMA and the New Museum, but why?”

William Evertson: My only observation is that museums seem to be a symptom and wall street excess is a cause. I can certainly relate to the desire to expose the corporate hand that is driving these cultural icons. I wonder what the alternatives look like? With people in such need throughout the country how many would support any cultural activity?

Mira Schor: re. the Hyperallergic piece, just to play devil’s advocate for a minute , while I am wondering about this occupy museums plan, isn’t asking “what a museum of the 99% would look like and who/what would fund it” as Hrag Vartanian does on Hyperallergic the same as saying that occupy wall street hasn’t articulated specific demands>>>they have gotten people talking and put somethings on a wider agenda, so perhaps this can’t hurt either even if it seems a bit elitist in relation to the 99% meme

Sean Capone: Just do it, what do you have to lose! Keep in mind a lot of people won’t care about this action and it underscores the derisive notion that OWS is a bunch of liberal arts majors with worthless degrees. If art is for the people then go make art for the people. Or if this makes you feel better about yourself–do this. The museums aren’t the ones keeping arts funding out of the ‘people’s’ hands–you should go OccupyTheNEA. By the way, the New Museum had their Ostalgia ‘peoples art’ show all summer and the people didn’t go see it. The people want graffiti art and Tim Burton shows. Was burning a flag of dollar bills at the OWS art show a good example of art for the people? (did that really happen?!) As one of the 99% I would have rather put it in the donation box.

Betty Tompkins: ♥ hrag.

Ree Dykeulous: Debating whether the culture industry and all of it’s tethered institutions are unethical and participatory in an exploitative inhumane financial scheme is nonsensical- it is. The pay scale and disparities in non-profit institutions (directors and board members alike) directly reflect the inequity in other industries so it’s time to ask the museums why, esp. since, (1) they don’t distribute payment to artists but rather act as representatives of commercial galleries & auction houses, (2) act as representatives of the industries from which their monies derive. See Major Earners in the Cultural World for details. Museums absolutely DO keep payments out of artist’s hands b/c no oversight is required regarding the distribution of institutional funding by public-private partnerships (whether the monies come from granting organizations, foundations or private monies). So being as the system is at this present moment, it’s inequitable, unethical and unjust in it’s relationship with the visual artists, performers, arts writers and independent curators with whom they choose to work, and from whom they are gaming with cultural capital known as “exposure”.

Grace Graupe Pillard: I remember when I first studied art – never having gone to Art School – and discovered the wonders of art – the length and breadth of its history at MOMA and the Met and the Frick…I went there for free almost every week or more to study and discover artistis and how to paint, and how not to paint, and what I considered good and bad painting. One helped me see the other.

This can no longer be done – Now we pay – and we pay – particularly at the Guggenheim, New Museum and MOMA – yes we lucky artists can get an Artist Pass at MOMA but the Guggenheim does not even deign to allow that. I am ambivalent and really do not know why – something inside of me feels uneasy with occupying Museums. Old habits die hard. So this discussion is refreshing and making me consider and re-consider the issues.

Judith Rodenbeck: Fluxify museums; occupy the Supreme Court.

Nato Thompson: As far as I can tell, the idea of occupying everything makes sense to me. If people occupy the institutions for which they are direct constituents (artists occupying museums for example) that certainly makes a lot of sense. I think people are feeling too defensive for museums. I used to work at one and we would have embraced a conversation around audience and funding. They are public institutions accountable to a public. It would be good to have the 99 at their door. It’s like feeling defensive for a government because the people show up to vote. That is the point. If anything, I think of this is a reminder of a mission statement. Of course artists like art, they are artists. So of course they have some sympathies for museums as an idea. I don’t think this needs to be thought of as a protest so much as an opportunity to consider who art is for, how it is funded and how is it accountable. It is the same question of wall street, governance, etc. Who can disagree with these basic questions? Funny that hyperallergenic article dismisses the idea and then goes on to pontificate on why not start a museum that supports the 99 (the article asks)? Well, isn’t that what the missions statement of all non-profit museums are? And finally, art is a place where these ideas should be embraced and shared. It is about free expression and our institutions are there to embrace that. That is their role. We should think of them as an infrastructure accountable to the public and use them as such. To dismiss using them seems almost as though we have given up on them.

Betty Tompkins: I actually have the record of The Investigator, the original and i had a cd made of it as it is really rare. The actual story is quite close to what my parents told me when I was a kid…I grew up with this record.

Rocio Rodriguez: I am not sure that I fully understand Nato Thompson’s comment above. “(museums).. ‘They are public institutions accountable to a public.” Accountable? What exactly that you want them to be accountable for? Who is giving them money? Remember Jesse Helms? He wanted to make institutions that received public money accountable for the art that they showed. The following excerpt is from a Huff post article —“According to a 2006 report issued by the American Association of Museums, since roughly the late 80s museums have registered a 15% drop in reliance on public funding. Over the same period, museums almost doubled the amount of private funding they receive, counted as a percentage of their operating income. In recent years, half of American museums have shown growth in their endowments, while museums running deficits have decreased by one third. Business is private, and business is good (notwithstanding the real perils involved when museums get too cozy with corporate interests).” This was published in ’08. Maybe private contributions have dropped since the economic downturn. But I get a little concerned when I hear the word ‘accountable’ applied to ART or art institutions. It brings up the culture wars of the early 80s. Bottom line here is that museums are non-profits and they have to get money from somewhere–via government or corporate, private donors. Frankly, I happily hand over my 25$ when I visit the Met. It’s the Art, I care about and that is what I am supporting.

Betty Tompkins: excellent point Rocio.

Rocio Rodriguez: correction: I meant to say the culture wars of the late not early 80’s….one more thing…that quote from the huff post article was in direct relation to Jesse Helms effect on govt. funding.

Betty Tompkins: it was a disaster.

Rocio Rodriguez: we still feel the effects of it today.

Mira Schor: Rocio: when I was a teenager I stopped at the Met often on my way home from school. It was free. I could go in there to get lost, on purpose, and see what I would see, I could go to look at one painting. If it had cost the equivalent of $25 I would had gone much less frequently. Luckily the Met has a pay as you wish category, though most tourists don’t notice. But that is very expensive and contributes to the notion that art is only for an elite.

Rocio Rodriguez: Mira, I hear what you are saying. Yes it’s expensive even for me…but I guess I’m a sucker for art and I feel that it is my responsibility to support it.

Ravenna Taylor: what a great discussion. I love museums, almost any one of them is like a house of worship to me. I agree with so much of what each of you has said here; in particular I like the way Steven Nelson put this: “Museums are intertwined with money and our current corporate mess, but it’s not museums that got us into the economic and social mess we face today.”

I posted this same link this morning, and acknowledged having my own doubts about some of the content and the language.

But I really am terribly excited to see questions posed, with expectations of answers, and large numbers, young and old, contemplating meaningful change in the ways that our society functions, at all sorts of levels. This is truly hopeful, for me. I may not agree with everything that might happen or be proposed, but I’m just glad to celebrate an end to complacency and fear.

Rocio Rodriguez: Last time I was at the Met, I asked the guy who was selling tickets, how many people pay 25$ ?(because I was curious and the two tourists in front of me opted for a smaller donation which is fine) and he said…actually quite a few. I was surprised and glad.

Oriane Stender: The general dissatisfaction/anger at OWS makes sense. The financial industry, taxes, investments, loans – that whole world is very confusing and many people (including me) feel lost in it. But that same vague distrust and anger doesn’t make as much sense when directed at museums. Being angry at high admission fees AND at corporate sponsorship doesn’t make for a focused argument. Corporate sponsorship reduces the admission fees the general public pays. NEA funds and other government funds used to finance museums to a larger degree. Now corporations and private money has to fill that gap. If we just show up to Occupy Museums and protest “the system” we will look like simpletons.

Ravenna Taylor: for some reason I am resentful when I pay admission to the Guggenheim, and I only go there if there is an exhibit I know I want very much to see. But I don’t feel the same way about MoMA or the Met, and I have memberships there so I can walk in as often as I want…My own argument has long been: less taxes to support war action; more taxes to support culture. Then we could have government support for cultural institutions instead of war industrialists, and not have to hear the Toll Bros plugged while listening to Met Opera Broadcasts.

Ravenna Taylor: My own argument has long been: less taxes to support war action; more taxes to support culture. Then we could have gov’t support for cultural institutions instead of war industrialists, and not have to hear the Toll Bros plugged while listening to Met Opera Broadcasts.

Cole Robertson: Not sure if this came up in the 70+ preceding comments, but here’s my take: corporate support of the arts is almost invariably a corrupt enterprise. It either serves to boost the market value of the corporation’s art collection, is a PR stunt to rehabilitate a tarnished image, or is a tax dodge. Either way, nasty.

Oriane Stender: Cole, other than a soup kitchen, what would be a non-corrupt enterprise? Pretty much everybody expects to get paid for doing what they do.

Ravenna Taylor: Money is never clean. The super-rich corporations like Toll Bros or Koch Ind. could, if philanthropy were their object, make their donations and not demand they be acknowledged multiple times in multiple ways. It’s not the way the world works of course; but as an idealist I feel I must point out, it is one of the options, to donate without the need to use the donation as advertising. Considering that they are surely writing the donation off if they are paying any taxes at all, using it to promote their businesses and their images is something that shouldn’t even be permissible. Just the opinion of a crazy idealist.

Cole Robertson: For starters, eliminate tax breaks for increasing the value of private collections. You wanna advertise the art you own to make it more valuable, Charles Saatchi-style? Fine. Just don’t do it with taxpayer money…Ravenna, exactly. We’re underwriting their PR budgets, and it’s flat-out wrong.

[…]

Kathy Schnapper: Slightly off-topic: OccupyMuseums is reawakening all of the ambivalence within me about issues of class and the practice of Art History. Remember the first time that I read Sir Kenneth Clark’s autobiography. He wrote about his early exposure to the finer things in life and how it was essential to his development in connoisseurship. My background was blue collar, and that idea continued to haunt me and make me feel inadequate.

Recall when PASTA first organized the MOMA staff. My family were early union organizers, but somehow I felt uncomfortable with the idea of museum workers in the same union with mere laborers (of course, I grew up quickly from that absurd position).

And then there was graduate school at Columbia: At the time I had a day job working with abused and neglected kids. James Beck told me that I could not be a serious art historian and continue to do that. So for years, I never mentioned it.

Bringing all of this up, because the legacy of these experiences continues to tug at my emotions and colors some of my rational response to #OccupyMuseums Glad that they have opened up this important area of discussion.

***

I appreciate this conversation, it’s been useful to me and I hope to anyone catching up on my blog. I thank everyone who participated, and since I  suspect the conversation will continue, I will update it if necessary. so, more later. Any comments to this blog post should if possible be directed to the conversation on my Facebook page so I can pick them up from there. A similar conversation on this subject took place on Stephen Nelson’s Facebook page.

And for fun, here are some pictures I found of a demonstration held in front of MoMA June 14, 1984, when the museum reopened after a major renovation with an exhibition which included almost no women artists.

Lucy Lippard and May Stevens, demonstration in front of MoMA, June 14, 1984, photo: Mira Schor

Rob Storr, Nancy Bowen, & Barbara Siegel, demonstration in front of MoMA, June 14, 1984 (Rob became Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in 1990 (to 2002).

 

Demonstration in front of MoMA, June 14, 1984

Plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose: in recent years MoMA has had special funding from Sarah Peters to focus on their collection of works by women artists, designers, and architects, has hosted a number of symposia on the subject of feminism and art (I’ve commented on these on this blog and, along with other women artists, on M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online), and major women artists have had exhibitions and installations in the Atrium, and yet the majority of retrospectives, of works exhibited, and of women included in themed group exhibitions has by far remained skewed towards work by male artists… this is only to say that change is slow and hard at any major institution, and museums are perhaps even more impervious to change than governments! It is an ongoing battle of which Occupy Museums will be a new stage.

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Art of the Occupy Wall Street Era

This is a slightly expanded version of a review that appeared on The Huffington Post on October 12th.

Every once in a while events in the art world and events in the “real” world mesh in a particularly fortuitous way. This is the case of the conjunction of Living as Form–an art exhibit taking place in the abandoned space of the old Essex Market on the Lower East Side, sponsored by Creative Time–with the Occupy Wall Street protest movement now taking place further South and West in Lower Manhattan.

The simultaneity of these two events was not planned, but Creative Time curator Nato Thompson is as inspired by “The Occupation of Wall Street Across Time and Space” as will be any viewer of Living as Form who is also taking an active part or interest in Occupy Wall Street.

The exhibition offers a combination of visual experience one might encounter in a college student union, a dorm, a BFA student show, and a Whitney Biennial. If you are looking for visual pleasure to offer itself up to you at first or second glance in most cases you will be disappointed. This show is part of a twenty-year direction of contemporary art away from traditional media and object-based art works towards installation, social platforms, participatory social engagement and collaboratives. Creative Time curator Nato Thompson has made it pretty clear that he is more interested in social engagement than in “participatory art,” a term used by art historian Claire Bishop: that is, if given a choice between art and social engagement, he’ll go with social engagement.

As a painter with a strong interest in political activism, I think painting and other traditional art objects can provide experience that is more than just a passive relation to commodity: a private engagement with an art work even if it not a political art work can also transmit courage and a renewed sense of the value of interiority that too has political meaning. Nevertheless I enjoyed Living as Form on the terms set by a variety of types of work included in the show. Living as Form presents the work of over 100 artists, art collaboratives, curatorial, and educational projects, I will just focus here on a few works that relate in their content and form to what Occupy Wall Street is as a popular uprising and as it has accrued some types of images and form to it.

Flyer in the Our Goods installation at Living as Form

One display in the show is organized by Our Goods.org, “a barter network for the creative community.” The walls of one booth are covered with a series of personal ads of the type you see on public bulletin boards. Here artists list their needs and the services they can offer in return, in a positivistic variant on one of the most haunting types of image circulating on the web in recent weeks via Occupy Wall Street: photos online at “We Are the 99%” of people holding up handwritten signs and notes to their computer’s camera, testifying to the impact of their lives of student debt, recent foreclosure, unemployment.

Image posted on "We Are the 99%"

Perhaps these images are the art of our time more than art seen in mainstream galleries, maybe even more than much socially engaged art, in the sense of an image typology that will speak to history: here is a recent, slightly impromptu statistical and linguistic analysis of this phenomenon. On the other hand the barter or exchange economy that is encouraged by Our Goods is part of the Millennial generation’s vision of social change, less reliant on traditional economic or governmental structures, like Occupy Wall Street a de-centered society of self-government and fair exchange of services facilitated by social media.

Another very different kind of socially engaged artistic intervention into lived urban space that has garnered a lot of media attention is Superflex’s copy of the executives’ restroom in the New York JPMorgan Chase headquarters installed inside the Olympic Restaurant in the same building as the exhibition with its entrance on 115 Delancey Street. I have to admit I expected that the executives restroom would be a bit fancier, despite the room’s black marble floor and elegantly designed sink bowl and faucet— I was expecting some more gold-plated appointments — but what’s great is that, not only is the concept of the work easy to understand and write about, something that in other instances I’ve critiqued as “Recipe Art,” but in this case very significantly this is a permanent improvement to the modest local diner.

Of the many other works of interest in the show, Peter Watkins’ five hour movie La Commune (1999) really stood out as a great work of art as well as totally timely for the present moment’s international series of popular occupations of public space in the hopes of political change. It is a black and white movie detailing the events of the populist insurrection of the Paris Commune in the spring of 1871. The film presents this historical event using the format of live television news coverage, as if this was a black and white documentary actually filmed during the Commune. It is so successful visually that I caught myself beginning to write about it as if it were a real record, rather than a recreation inflected with contemporary political tropes: in the short section. I watched at Living As Form, young working class demonstrators respond to the news interviewer shoving a mike in their face by saying how thrilled they are, then the interviewers turn to a crowd of bourgeois Parisians come to see the demonstration. “They have no plan,” says one woman, “they’re outside agitators,” says another! Sound familiar? Of course the script is written from the point of view of present day tropes, but it is quite credible that this would have been true. From what I could tell from short viewing and some research this is a brilliant film that I hope to see in full. It would be great if there were a theater revival showing now during the Occupy Wall Street autumn. The second part of the film can be viewed on YouTube in a three hour segment. It is necessary viewing for today, standing between current media coverage of Occupy Wall Street or Tahrir Square and similar inspiring though often tragic movements from the past, those revolutions that could not be televised or tweeted. Meanwhile you can see the whole film or whatever portion you come upon by chance at Living as Form.

Living as Form runs through October 16th,


 

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