Occupy Wall Street Gets Its Own Biennial

CURATE THE CAUSE: Art has been a part of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest since its inception — just check out all the screenprinting workshops and poster-making going on right now. Now, OWS participants have started the “Wall Street Occupennial,” a “biennial” call for artist projects in support of the protest.

On the Occupennial’s well-designed Tumblr Web site, they lay out their mission statement in an open call:

The Wall Street Occupennial is an urgent call for artists to contribute to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement currently centered at Liberty Plaza in the Financial District of New York City. The Occupennial is founded on the belief that artists have a crucial role to play in helping to elaborate and sustain the democratic public space that is currently being created by the occupation of Liberty Plaza.

While it echoes the familiar art-world term “biennial,” the Occupennial is unencumbered by any predetermined curatorial program or institutional apparatus. It exists instead as an imaginative umbrella-concept and pragmatic media platform through which diverse activities might be brought into alliance around both the specific site of Liberty Plaza and other occupation-sites throughout the United States and the rest of the world.

Some of the suggestions for projects include digitally-based works as well as “sign-making, performative gestures, tours, choreographic scores, acoustic experiments, historical reenactments, or ephemeral architectures.”

This is no stodgy Venice-style biennial, carefully planned and curated with the latest art stars, but a dynamic pop-up art invasion, an artistic strategy that has also proved popular among curators and artists. There is no final “exhibition” or gallery installation, but an unfolding series of artistic actions in support of the protest. (Quick, someone call Hans Ulrich Obrist — this is where the real populist action’s at!)

The Occupennial's "Balloon Mapping Vehicle" (image via Flickr)

The most active venue for the Occupennial seems to be the group’s Facebook page, which hosts a wall full of links, photos, and possible plans. The Web site’s archive shows a list of completed projects and documentation, including an interesting “Balloon Mapping” piece. The Occupennial’s organizers can be contacted at occupennial@gmail.com, and planned projects will be added onto their schedule.

Art Fag City notes that the Occupennial “will have to sort out some growth-related challenges” in communicating its ideas, and reports from the scene:

Using the people’s mic, one co-organizer announced, “Making a map of artists who are struggling in New York would be much more revolutionary than another show of Kara Walker and friends..”  To which another responded, “I’m happy if Kara Walker wants to do something. I’m also happy if my next door neighbor wants to do something”- this got a lot of upward-finger-wiggling, which means “I like.”

Meanwhile, Hyperallergic has noticed the “No Comment” show that has attached itself to the OWS protests, using the “99 percent” message to attempt to fund its own exhibition hosted in the J.P. Morgan building not far from the Zuccotti Park protesters. There has been backlash against the show, which claims that it is apolitical. Who’s next on the bandwagon? Maybe Bruce High Quality Foundation?


  • Social media performance artist Man Bartlett has posted an album of photographs he shot of the Occupy Wall Street protests with a camera he received for free through Tumblr, in an interesting mash-up of Internet-enabled activism.

— Kyle Chayka