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“Occupy Museums”: What&#146s Wrong With This Picture?

Art Workers Coalition, “Art Workers Won’t Kiss Ass,” 1969

Help! I’m getting traumatic Sixties flashbacks!

Does anyone remember the Art Workers Coalition? I started my art-journalism career as editor/writer for the Art Workers News, which grew out of the AWC and also counted a young Adam Weinberg, now the Whitney’s director, among its staffers. (We were both there, however, in the early ’70s, after the coalition had pretty much disbanded.)

The AWC had some clear, specific objectives about reforming museums, such as the inclusion of more women and minorities in exhibitions and on cultural institutions’ professional staffs and boards. Perhaps its most famous (or infamous) action—at the Metropolitan Museum under Thomas Hoving—is recounted here (second paragraph).

By contrast, Occupy Museums (an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street), which today takes its protest to three New York museums, has a “message” (so far) that’s little more than heated rhetoric about “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.”

Are there any specific objectives here? Should museums cease making “absurd” quality distinctions about “individual genius” and randomly show everyone? Some rational goals need to be articulated, if this is to become a Movement, rather than a venting of frustration.

Paddy Johnson, the Art Fag City blogger, has posted the text of Occupy Museums’ screed (including the above excerpt), as well as the group’s schedule for descending upon a puzzling (and probably puzzled) assortment of institutions—the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick and the New Museum. (How did the Met manage to escape this fate?)

The group is scheduled to conduct a “teach-in” about the three targeted museums at 3 p.m. today in Zuccotti Park. At 4:15 p.m., it is scheduled to broadcast (on Livestream) a statement related to this protest.

Perhaps this amorphous expression of discontent will ultimately coalesce into something meaningful. But if the “Occupy” movement is looking to attack the forces that have played a significant role in widening the gap between the haves and have-nots, they’ve made a questionable choice in targeting art museums.

an ArtsJournal blog