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Occupy Wall Street: Should the Art World be Occupied?

by Brian Sherwin on 10/19/2011 11:29:36 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has lit a fire of protest throughout the United States and abroad. It appears that the mainstream art world is not protected from the flames. In the last month groups such as Occupy Art World, Occupy Museums, and Occupy Chelsea have emerged -- all railing against the influence the 1% has had on the direction of art in the United States. Obviously these art related mini-revolutions, if you will, are of interest to me -- not only for what the supporters are criticizing... but for what they say about the state of the mainstream art world at this time.


Of the three groups mentioned Occupy Art World appears to have made the most impact within the art world itself. With a relatively small number of online followers the movement has gained acknowledgement from GalleristNY, ARTINFO, AnimalNewYork, Art Fag City and the Huffington Post. With just a few Google searches I discovered that the Occupy Art World movement has spread to England and France. In that sense, the basic concepts of these art-focused Occupy movements appear to be trending among artists worldwide. The big question being -- does the mainstream art world need the breed of change that Occupy Wall Street, in general, suggests? I don't have the answer -- but I'm definitely taking notice.


In my opinion, movements, such as Occupy Art World and Occupy Museums, have significance even if they are not directly associated with the movers and shakers of Occupy Wall Street. They have significance because they beg the question -- does the mainstream art world as we know it need the type of change that only public outcry can achieve? In addition to that , does the influence of a small number of people -- specifically individuals who fall in the 1% -- manipulate the direction and preservation of culture in regard to art? These types of questions are often avoided by the movers and shakers of the mainstream art world -- such as high profile curators and museum directors.


There appears to be growing concern that the mainstream art world -- including the 'world' of art museums -- has become more interested in securing the art investments of the 1% rather than securing a factual presentation of what will become the art history of tomorrow. In a sense, many feel that our art culture, if you will, is being manipulated by wealthy power players. Most appear to feel that said history should define all of us -- and acknowledge talent and strong visual messages regardless of where the artist stands within the mainstream art market.... regardless of what art collections he or she can be found in.


In other words, supporters of groups like Occupy Art World appear to feel that our collective art history within the United States is being dictated by dollar signs -- and thus wealthy influence -- instead of the desire of the public at large. For art museums -- many of which receive some form of public funding -- these art related mini-revolutions, based on the comments I've read, pose a serious ethical problem in that supporters are generally questioning if museums are truly following the declaration of their mission statements in regard to the preservation of history and culture. These groups raise the question -- can the future of art history be bought today? Food for thought.


Some of these Occupy Art groups have pointed out that several highly influential museum directors were at one time professional art dealers. Point blank -- it is assumed that these individuals may be exploiting their current museum director positions in order to continue pandering to former clientele, increase the value of their own art collections and pave the way for their potential jump back into the world of art dealing... all on, depending on how the museum is funded, the dime of tax payers. These are all valid points in my opinion... points that I have made myself long before Occupy Wall Street became a household name. That said, it never hurts to connect the dots if in fact a conflict of interest exists.


True, these types of art world conflicts of interest have been called out long before the firestorm of Occupy Wall Street -- and long before anything I've written about the topic. The difference today is that the general public is starting to be highly critical about how tax dollars are spent and how much influence extremely wealthy individuals, banks and corporations have over the rest of us economically -- as well as culturally (keep in mind that museum exhibits are often sponsored by banks). If a conflict of interest exists -- it will be exposed now more than ever.


The proverbial straw has been broken -- artists are demanding answers with each Occupy Art group that emerges online. These groups have offered a voice to artists who are often afraid to speak up out of concern for professional backlash. I have found it common to read comments like, "Thank you for doing this", left for these groups on Twitter. What does it say for the mainstream professional art world when artists are thanking the founders of these art related Occupy groups for exposing what they see as injustice, greed and the manipulation of art culture? The answer will come sooner than later. To me -- that is why these art related mini-revolutions are important... even if I don't agree with everything that has been said. It is a conversation that is long overdue.


I don't want to turn anyone into a target. That said, my guess is that high profile art professionals working within the United States likely feel uncomfortable due to this recent bombardment of open questioning from the edges of their communities. After all, these Occupy Wall Street inspired art groups call their entire field into question. Point blank -- it may be hard for these professionals to find common ground with the general public -- and 'inside' critics -- in that some of the most influential professionals within the US art world -- including gallery owners and artists -- rely on the 1%.


In closing, I will likely discuss Occupy Wall Street and the various Occupy Art groups that have emerged in future FineArtViews articles. Until then -- I want to know what you think. Is it time, as Occupy Art World suggested on Twitter, for the conflicts of the mainstream art world to be placed under the scope? Should the public have a direct impact on what is exhibited or acquired by art museums that receive public funding? Who should decide how the history of art is documented and preserved for the future? Should the mainstream art world be occupied? If so, who should 'occupy' it? Comment with your thoughts.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Topics: art criticism | art history | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Think Tank | Twitter 

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I've read all of the art world is the only thing the 1 percent is good for rhetoric. The art world is going to have to face this. There are vocal supporters of Occupy in the art community but those same people cling to the 1 percent when it comes to the art market that supports them. A social revolution is all or nothing. If the 1 percent are the bad guys economically than it means they are the bad guys culturally. You can't pick and choose without integrity being questioned. If the 1 percent is good for art but nothing else maybe people need to rethink their support of Occupy.

I want to add that it is like shooting oneself in the foot when you have soap box debaters like Jerry Saltz and Edward Winkleman praising the Occupy Wall Street movement while everyone knows that without 1 percent connections they would not have the influence they enjoy today. Then you have big time artists who are in the 1 percent throwing their support to the movement. That does not make any sense to me. If they hate their wealth I will gladly take some of it.

John Smith
I'd like to ask the question - where do the majority of acadamic art schools fit in? Do they fall within the 1 percent or out of it? Their influence seems disproportionate to the number of artists they produce!

Sari Grove
Microcosm: I have been trying to get a refund on a weird product called balance protection insurance on our credit card...In the past 10 years, million and millions of dollars have been refunded to consumers on this completely useless and exploitative thing...Class Action lawsuits have been won, laws have been enacted...Of course, Canada is last to legislate, so we are still fighting the bank without the same kind of support that was found in the States and England...
This one product costs 2 million a year to administer, but brings in 20 million a year in revenue...Though it is accepted to be essentially a scam...
In conversation with an uber authority in the insurance business here, he told me that if you are an individual fighting a bank or large corporation, you should know that that billion dollars that they stole from you, will be used to fight you in a court of law or elsewhere...It is a salient point...
If a bank or other large entity has been corrupt and has taken large sums of money from the people, then they have that money as power to fight you...You on the other hand, who have been stolen from, have no monetary resources and are working from a deficit...
So, really, gathering together, like Occupy Wall Street, or the other Occupy movements, is really what you have...Strength in numbers...Our voice is louder if we speak together...I am not sure of all the issues, but I do know that our voices need to join to assert and reassert our powers...
Much of what I have been dealing with over here has to do with a lack of respect for artists, the self-employed, the meek, who are getting steamrolled by large bodies of money, that in fact was taken from those small voices...
It is not only the question if money should decide art, it is the question of where did that money come from and who does it really belong to? The meek shall inherit the earth...I believe the Occupy movements are the harbinger of that prophesy...

Brian Sherwin
John -- Art students supporting Occupy are protesting art schools in mass. Mainly over the cost of education.

Ron -- The mainstream art world clearly has some questions to address. I can remember writers comparing aspects of the mainstream art world to Wall Street just a few years ago... specifically in regard to the top art market.

Sari -- Change will come from it I'm sure. We are watching history in the making.


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