Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Five weeks after protesters occupied a Lower Manhattan plaza to press for economic and political change, they’ve turned their attention to what they call “temples of cultural elitism,” New York’s museums.
Members of an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street calling itself Occupy Museums yesterday targeted the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum of Contemporary Art.
They took turns reading from a statement, with the crowd repeating each line in a call-and-response system used at their Wall Street base in Zuccotti Park and in many protests.
“The Occupy Wall Street Movement will bring forth an era of new art, true experimentation outside the narrow parameters set by the market,” was the chant at one point, voiced by a crowd comprising a few dozen artists, students and passers-by outside MoMA.
Artist Dave Kearns complained about MoMA’s regular admission fee, calling $25 “an obscene amount of money,” and adding, “There should be more nights when it’s free.”
A person in a gorilla mask said he or she -- the gender wasn’t clear from the voice -- worked in a New York museum and didn’t care for its exclusionist curatorial choices.
A 34-year-old artist named Blithe Riley proposed that the group skip the Frick Collection, which was to be temple No. 2, and go directly to No. 3, the New Museum.
“Three museums might be a lot for one day,” she said.
Show of Hands
With a show of hands, the group indicated a consensus for her proposal.
“We’re going to occupy the New Museum now,” Riley said.
A couple exiting MoMA looked perplexed.
“I don’t know what they mean, ‘Occupy the New Museum?’” said Ruth Geisenheimer, 82, from Chicago.
“What do they intend to do with this museum?” asked her husband, Ed, 87.
Noah Fischer, a 34-year-old Brooklyn-based artist who devised Occupy Museums, said the group makes no demands.
“We want to use the democratic process to bring people together and learn what a society that is not about money is like,” he said in an interview.
Outside the New Museum, Fischer called it a “pyramid scheme of the 1 percent.”
“These artists are conflated with capital,” he said.
Earlier, 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.
“Walking around in a circle outside that building is not an easy job,” said Jason Ide, the 30-year-old president of Teamsters Local 814, which represents the handlers and commercial movers. “When they show up, our guys feel a real kick because they care.”
Ide, a former art handler who earned about $46,000 in his last year at Sotheby’s, said the auctioneer seeks to cut the workweek from 38 3/4 hours to 36 1/4 hours, double the number of nonunion temporary workers and cut eligibility for overtime.
“They want to take things away from us,” said William McAllister, a deputy foreman who has worked at Sotheby’s for 38 years, and with as much as 30 hours of weekly overtime earns about $120,000 annually.
“They want to keep bringing in temps until there are no union guys at all,” he said. “They want to break the union.”
Sotheby’s in an e-mail said it has offered union employees “a very fair contract” that includes wage increases and improved benefits each year.
Fischer said he intends Occupy Museums to be a weekly protest. It may expand to auction houses such as Sotheby’s.
“Everyone is on notice,” he said.
--Editors: Jeffrey Burke, Manuela Hoelterhoff.
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