Saturday I stopped by the Occupy Oakland encampment under city hall at Frank Ogawa Plaza to get a glimpse of the movement firsthand. The Occupy Oakland set-up includes a medical station, food area, arts/crafts tent, information table, and reserved spaces for groups. As an artist, I was curious locally after reading how artists nationally are participating in the movement.
For example, a splinter group of Occupy Wall Street New York recently brought protests to the MoMA and the New Museum on October 21st. Protesters were angry at MoMA’s entry fee of $25 and demanded seeing art beyond what the market (money) dictates. An outrageous and unattainable entry fee to a museum blocks access to a majority of Americans. As a result, additional free entrance days and discounts must be given. Art needs to be within reach to everyone despite socioeconomic status.
Sotheby’s auction house in New York has been a focus of the protesters. According to Bloomberg Businessweek: “…dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters joined the picket line outside Sotheby’s, the Manhattan auction house, where 42 unionized art handlers have been locked out in a labor dispute since July 29.” Sotheby’s demanded that the art handlers take steep cuts in pay and benefits while art sells at record prices.
Currently Sotheby’s hired temporary workers, with no experience, to handle art by Picasso, Rembrandt, and many others. It takes skill, patience, and knowledge to care for these artworks. If I were an investor, I would want the “best” to handle my investment. Unfortunately, it appears that quantity is more important than quality for some American corporations.
Artists throughout the country have been participating in the protests through various forms of expressions. Like German art critic and novelist Julius Meier-Graefe said “all great works of art are trophies of victorious struggle.” In the future, it will be interesting to see how art made through the current political upheaval will be documented and recorded. We’ll just have to wait and see…