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“Occupy Museums” Distracts From Real Issues In Art & Society

Submitted by on November 1, 2011 – 6:15 pmNo Comment
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A New York artist has announced an “Occupy Museums” protest to coincide with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. And though OWS’s Arts and Culture group has approved the sub-movement, even its supporters call the art world movement ill-defined. Unfortunately, the whole episode shows how detached the art world is from the rest of society, and gives the positive (but also vague) intentions of OWS bad publicity.

Artist Noah Fischer wrote the initial call to 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 [sic] of elite…

The above paragraph has done a lot of disservice to the entire Occupy movement. Its blanket statements, which read like the bitter screeds of a pretentious college sophomore, are the only aspect that have garnered any media attention.

Karen Archey at ArtInfo cuts to the central irony in Fischer’s criticisms, saying his artwork (pictured here) “is tailor-made to exist in a Chelsea gallery and [be] sold to rich people.”

With unemployment hovering near 10%, is this a real concern for average people? And would “art for everyone” even include the experimental works coming from Brooklyn and Queens? Or are today’s most popular and pervasive visual artists people that Fischer and the artistic elite would find completely unacceptable: the art directors of Halo video games; the designers at Apple; and even (gasp) Ed Hardy?

In fact, museums all across the country are facing criticisms from their supporters for being too inviting, and seeking wider audiences in lean economic times. Some looked down on the High Museum in Atlanta for calling automobiles fine art, similar to when the Guggenheim showcased motorcycles in 1998. MoMA
probably had an eye on attendance in 2009 when they mounted an exhibit on popular director Tim Burton
(The Nightmare Before Christmas
, Edward Scissorhands
), which became their third most popular exhibit ever.

Also, the belief that this is a low point of accessibility to art seems historically ignorant. The struggle between art and business has gone on for centuries, if not longer; DaVinci and Michelangelo were supported by patrons whose wealth would put Wall Street to shame (OK, or at least rival it).

Furthermore, NYC is chock full of museums devoted to every field imaginable, and almost every one of these institutions offers free admission on some days, including the often vilified Museum of Modern Art (courtesy of Target!). The crown jewel of New York museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is pay-what-you-want everyday; and the Met presents a stunning range of human artifacts, from African crafts to one of the best collections of baseball cards in the world.

Also in ArtInfo, Ben Davis makes an intelligent and compelling case to support Occupy Museums, though even he admits that their early actions were “a self-indulgent mistake.” Archey suggests that Fischer should criticize for-profit institutions (and indeed, OM announced a demonstration against ritzy New York auction house Sotheby’s, which is having labor disputes).

Smart, sincere people are indeed concerned about who is consuming art, and who is curating it. But OWS is already working with an excess of good intentions, a lack of ideological clarity, and the public perception of cultural obliviousness. Unless they focus on issues that truly affect the 99%, Fischer and his supporters threaten to drag down the movement’s positive momentum.

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