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Occupy Wall Street Movement Declares War on NYC Museums as “Temples of Cultural Elitism”

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Created by artist Noah Fischer and published on Paddy Johnson’s Tumblr, Occupy Museums! is a protest call to fight the “intense commercialization and co-optation of art” that has occurred in recent years. The plan is to visit a trio of New York City art museums and occupy them, asking the museums to “open their minds and hearts.”

NOTE: The Occupy Museums! march is planned for tomorrow, Thursday, October 20.

The  polemical manifesto argues for fighting museums as manifestations of the cultural power of Occupy Wall Street’s targeted “1 percent.” The full text of the call is below, with boldfaced highlights added:

The game is up: we see through the pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism controlled by the 1%. No longer will we, the artists of the 99%, allow ourselves to be tricked into accepting 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. For the past decade and more, artists and art lovers have been the victims of the intense commercialization and co-optation or art. We recognize that art is for everyone, across all classes and cultures and communities. We believe that the Occupy Wall Street Movement will awaken a consciousness that art can bring people together rather than divide them apart as the art world does in our current time…

Let’s be clear. Recently, we have witnessed the absolute equation of art with capital. The members of museum boards mount shows by living or dead artists whom they collect like bundles of packaged debt. Shows mounted by museums are meant to inflate these markets. They are playing with the fire of the art historical cannon while seeing only dancing dollar signs. The wide acceptance of cultural authority of leading museums have made these beloved institutions into corrupt ratings agencies or investment banking houses- stamping their authority and approval on flimsy corporate art and fraudulent deals.

For the last few decades, voices of dissent have been silenced by a fearful survivalist atmosphere and the hush hush of BIG money. To really critique institutions, to raise one’s voice about the disgusting excessive parties and spectacularly out of touch auctions of the art world while the rest of the country suffers and tightens its belt was widely considered to be bitter, angry, uncool. Such a critic was a sore loser. It is time to end that silence not in bitterness, but in strength and love! Because the occupation has already begun and the creativity and power of the people has awoken! The Occupywallstreet Movement will bring forth an era of new art, true experimentation outside the narrow parameters set by the market. Museums, open your mind and your heart! Art is for everyone! The people are at your door!

In a slightly strange string of targets, Occupy Museums! plans to occupy the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Collection, and the New Museum. Beginning at the Occupy Wall Street site, the march’s itinerary includes calls to occupy a series of subway trains as well.  Check it out in full at the bottom of this post.

Art and artists are a powerful part of the Occupy Wall Street protests (as ARTINFO has pointed out in our continuing coverage), but Occupy Museums! is attempting to bring the protest spirit directly into the art world (maybe Fischer should talk to the proprietor of a certain Twitter account). Except these museums — public institutions as they are — don’t really seem to be fitting targets for such vitriol. Try Gagosian gallery, maybe?

UPDATE: Fischer has noted that the Occupy Museums! action has been approved of by Occupy Wall Street’s Art and Culture group, of which the artist is a part. Occupy Museums! “is definitely not just my personal project,” Fischer writes, “it’s broadly part of the Occupy Movement’s aim to claim back the commons back from the 1% — from economic justice to public space, to art.” The statements that will be read will also be approved of by consensus.

We’ve created a poll on our Facebook page asking if Occupy Wall Street should be targeting museums. Check it out and respond! Current results: a resounding 29 NO votes and one solitary YES.

— Kyle Chayka

*   *   *

Proposal for Occupy Museums! Schedule [Revised]:

NOTE: This is being planned for tomorrow, Thursday, October 20

Day 1:

3:00 Meet at Liberty Park
Teach-in about the museums we are going to occupy

4:15 Livestream- read document in front of 5000 viewers.

Occupy the 4 train

5:00 Occupy MoMA
hours: 10:30-5:30
11 W 53rd street New York, NY

Occupy the M3 Bus

6:00 Occupy Frick Collection
hours: 10:00-6 PM
1 East 70th Street, New York, NY

Occupy the 6 train

7:00 Occupy New Museum
Thursdays 6-8 free
235 bowery


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  1. by Monica Olivo

    Occupy Museums? Sounds silly. However, I WOULD an Occupation of the Barnes Collection of Philadelphia, which has been raped from a private trust by politicians to generate significant clout and profit for the city of Philadelphia. The Art of The Steal is an awesome documentary that tells the story of the Barnes Collection. Guaranteed to infuriate any art lover!

  2. Great idea, especially the New which is total commercialization of art as investment tool, for tools.

  3. Starting to sound like the Nazi movement! Degenerate art? What’s next,corporate publishers, ban or burn books! Time to weed out the fringe groups from occupy before it drags everybody down.

  4. This guy is an idiot. I hope he gets beaten and arrested then beaten again.

  5. Great, next let’s have a group of 16 year olds pillage our cultural monuments in the name of the people. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of frustrated unemployed artists who aren’t getting the gallery shows promised to them by their art school educations in the Occupy crowd.

  6. Not sure in what sense you meant “public institutions,” but these are not “public” in the sense of being owned by any level of government. They are “public” in that they are open to the public, yes. But MOMA is a private (nonprofit) institution.

  7. @Ryan “Public” in the sense that they are publicly accessible and to some extent publicly accountable, unlike the Wall Street (for-profit) business that the protests are largely targeted.

  8. “Time to weed out the fringe groups from occupy before it drags everybody down.”

    Uh. Weeding out the fringe groups from the Occupiers would leave no one to occupy anything.

  9. Protesting at the Frick Museum seems stupid because although this institution inmortalizes a controversial man, it is an non-profit organization which main functions is to grant access to a great art collection. There is a diference between elitism and culture. What’s next? Colleges? Libraries?

  10. Kyle, I can’t imagine how you don’t see MoMA as the most fitting possible target for a polemical occupation, being the prime offender in the ongoing commodification of modern art. Look up Rem Koolhaas’ project for “MoMA Inc”, read Sylvia Lavin’s critique of the new expansion in “Kissing Architecture,” or, of course, just visit the MoMA design store if you need to see some evidence of how MoMA is conditioning the public’s reception of modern art through the lens of consumer spectacle. And listen, I love and appreciate much of what they do at MoMA, but I think the occasional reminder to think more carefully about which publics they’re really serving can only be a good thing.

  11. “In the Air”
    If I can get to your house by public sidewalk, may I occupy it? How about anyone you have ever allowed in?

  12. MoMA is union. Union employees have been organizing in support of Occupy Wall Street. And the education and curatorial departments in these museums work very hard to dismantle elitism and bring amazing collections to many different communities. As a result, the works they showcase have never been more accessible to more people than they are now — we’re talking millions of visitors a year! Sure, these institutions could and should be less elite, but come on. Obviously this guy hasn’t bothered to consider much beyond his over-simplied argument.

  13. No, artistes simply have no idea at how removed they are from the real world. MoMA may have been great at first and for a few decades after, but slowly but surely has gone the way of all academia, corrupt for profit and a platform for its board to get rich. The Frick is of the hoity toity, and the NEW never anything but an effete institutional brown nosing venue.

    The Frick and MoMA have incredible art, being put away as new garbage invades the new mausoleum sized vaults of its decadence. It is entering contempt art, and leaving behind Modern.The are direct opposites, and at war with one another. Contempt is the reassertion of the “elites’ whims and desires over the peoples. It defines a clique, not who WE are.

    And so go ahead, occupy it. Nothing is being destroyed, get over it, its just you’re tender feelings that are being hurt. YOU are the issue, anyone servile enough to graduate from the museo/academic/gallery complex that is far more insidious than Eisenhower Military/industrial one. And led us to this decadence of the age of Meism and Excess, which is why we are now bankrupt, of mind, body and yes, soul.

    art collegia delenda est

    Fine art academies must be destroyed
    No great artist ever graduated from their sterile walls of self interest, art is of life, and it is out here in the real world, not the daycare centers of the soft and spoiled.

  14. by Frazzled by Frazell

    My god, what platitudes. If we’re going to take this on, can we actually say something a little less empty than comparisons of art institutions to the military industrial complex? Can we lend this issue some legitimacy by framing our discussion with concrete, specific problems that have some relation to reality? Of all the statements posted, none reflect hurt feelings more than Donald Frazell’s.

  15. Don’t occupy the museums unless you’re there to feed your head. Go to the inflated and bloated galleries and auction houses that feed off your head.

  16. What an unfounded movement. Sounds like people are getting carried away. There is truth to some of the statements in their manifesto, but they are targeting the wrong institutions while adhering to some very tenuous claims. To me, the whole thing sounds a bit too Stalin-esque to be useful.

  17. Touched a nerve I see, if only the soul was involved, but contempt art has none. I sell but through other means, Picasso never showed at a salon, which is all the art schools are, buying the ticket into the supposed artworld, which is but a mirage a scam, snake oil salesmen took over long ago. Skills are not only not taught, but frowned upon as unseemly and too rough and dirty. True artists are workers, todays are but comically frontin bad businessmen, sitting around tables consulting and conceivinhg absolutely nothing for sale. Content is not acceptable. Appearance is everything.

    Never wasted a dime on the fools, my mother went but long ago before totally corrupted and as a applied art grad with Irving Penn. Yes, this complex is as insidiuous as the military one, which serves s real function and need but bloated and self serving when not kept in check. Who keeps these fools and charlatans and investment brokers in line?

    No one, they are all one huge stinking three headed monster, all about career, art is not only secondary, but now not needed or desired at all. It raises truly uncomfortable questions, not teh irrelevant and absurd entertainment of todays so called ” Converstation”. Just a long, dull, self absorbed Jerry Seinfeld episode.

    Save the color filled and spiritual Watts Towers(Nuestro Pueblo). Tear down the drab and soulless Ivories.

  18. Exactly how are sit ins Stalinesque? Soem people are jsut being called on their Bs and you dont like it. Good for them, keep it up! I wasnt sure about all this before, but if they attack “cultural” institutions as corrupt, that the problem is with us, our whole view on life and not tjsut the economic insitutions which run them, then there is hope.

    This would lead to true Change. Go for itr, and dont stop or seell out, which sadly most do eventually. There is no compromise. It has gone far too deeply with obviously the vast majoritys self interest attached. Rock that boat, and shake off the barnacles

  19. @Donald, you’re coming close to spamming.

  20. Sorry, just drinking coffee and getting ready for work(someone has to do it).
    Have a nice day!

  21. by Michael Du Champs

    What is next: occupy libraries, universities and publishing houses?

  22. by Museum Employee

    Noah Fischer has a couple good points, but on the whole his rant is an absurd and poorly-constructed argument. Could museums be more egalitarian and encourage more participation from their communities? Sure, and we are striving to do more every day, even with increasingly limited funding. But to say that all museum exhibits are the product of corrupt funding from the wealthy 1% is ridiculous.

    I work in a museum instead of an art auction house to serve the public! I’m passionate about working in a non-profit educational institution, with an art collection owned by the PUBLIC trust, not by the wealthy 1%. I’m passionate about sharing our collection with our visitors, and with making our collections accessible to as broad an audience as possible! Most major museums have a mission to serve the public, and that’s why every museum professional I know went into this low-paying field. Museums aren’t perfect, but Fischer’s accusation that we only exist to grovel to the wealthiest 1% is ignorant, insulting, and absurd.

  23. I’m trying to wrap my head around this, but as a museum professional I think that these outcries are far better directed toward auction houses and galleries. Museums, after all, are non-profit organizations staffed by incredibly dedicated, passionate, and largely under-paid individuals (myself included) who tirelessly do what they do specifically to make art available to all. Moreover, many of these “temples of elitism” have suffered significantly at the hands of the economic downturn, which has resulted in lay-offs, exhibition cancellations, and curtailed hours of operation. To Fischer’s point about board members, all I can say is that a board of trustees does not a museum make. I still support Occupy Wall Street, but I support museums too.

  24. by Brandon Ellis

    Get a life. You bunch of low life nin-come-poops have nothing better to do than complain about anything and everything.

  25. This is a totally misguided protest. I’m an abstract artist who has supported herself with full-time and freelance jobs. Most recently, I worked at a major museum full-time (nonunion) and lost it due to budget cuts. The museum accepts donations for admission and does not charge a mandatory fee. I don’t blame the museum for the budget cuts, I blame the economy and people not being able to donate like they used to because they have tight budgets. A better choice for protests would be Christie’s or Sotheby’s. where the wealthy go to buy art, rather than museums that make great art available to everyone for free or a minimal fee.

  26. i like it.

  27. EGB and Museum Employee: right on. My Thoughts exactly when I heard about this misguided movement.

  28. @Donald:

    Go get a life!
    Eat some cake, duck!

  29. If Occupy Museums wants to lend its support to something, let it be the routinely thwarted unionization attempts by museum employees throughout the country.

    My wages will most likely never reflect the cost of living and there is no protection for workers whose salaries are frozen for years or have their jobs unceremoniously sacrificed on the budgetary altar with little compensation. None of us who work with museums do it to get rich, but the lack of a living wage should not be part of the trade-off.

  30. “Fischer has noted that the Occupy Museums! action has been approved of by Occupy Wall Street’s Art and Culture group”

    Hmmm and who did choose the Art and culture group and when was it that there where fair and free elections for the art and culture group?

    If you want art for the people , start making art the people like and put it outside where the people can see it .
    If you want publicity try at least to be original

  31. Donald, you are right. The academic fine art world is far more corrupt than wall street. Millions of dollars for a painting? Hello people, you really think the painting would be worth that if not signed by a well marketed artist?

    You want your artist to be part of the racket? Buy and sell among yourselves a few times, the suckers will soon jump in. It’s amazing how gullible people are. Artists, want to jump in? Screw some rich dude helps if your folks aren’t rich, but you must get a good gimmick. Like to paint? Paint on carpet or recycled garbage, leave canvas to those who actually know how to paint, which you won’t learn in some overpriced for profit school. Make something marketable, the more slick and commercial it is, the better.

    Easy formula, sex plus slick product = fine art success! Truth is, anyone making money off art, or hoping to, will defend the corrupt system. Wall Street looks like daycare for kitties in comparison.

    Okay, enough of this, now I will go back to making some sketches to send to my staff of artists to make because I don’t have the time to be an artist myself, I’m making money honey! Money to buy what? Sex and expensive art to impress my dull friends of course!

  32. I cannot believe how much media attention this story still gets (yes, that means you too, ArtInfo!) when it’s a no-brainer how absolutely deluded and counterproductive it is.

    They’re obviously attacking the completely wrong sides and the understanding of what a museum per se is, seems VERY unclear to the organizers.

    Instead, it should have said:

    Occupy Commercial Galleries That Deal In Secondary Markets, Art Fairs & Auction Houses

    Or short OCGTDISMAFAH.

    Which sounds much better too.

  33. by Nalliah Thayabharan

    We essentially have had modern-day bank robbers — except that they wore gray suits and not masks — and there’s been no accountability for it Every day we see energy speculators, war profiteers, managed health-care providers, media propagandists, and/or financiers of Wall Street given some unfair advantage over the average consumers and taxpayers, and the cumulative effect of the American people watching selfishness prevail over the public interest has been an undermining of the public’s trust in government. There’s no question the system is rigged against the little guy. The Wall Street interests have a lot more information. They jerry-rig the system so that they always win. Oligarchy is political power based on economic power. And it’s the rise of the Wall Street in economic terms, that it’d turn into political power. And Wall Street then feed that back into more deregulation, more opportunities to go out and take reckless risks and– and capture huge amounts of money. The American democracy was not given to us on a platter. It is not ours for all time, irrespective of our efforts. Either people organize and they find political leadership to take this on, or we are going to be in big trouble. That’s absolutely the heart of the problem. I would also say and tell you, and emphasize, these Wall Street people will not come out and debate with us. The heads of Wall Street or their representatives, they will not come out. They’re afraid. They don’t have the substance. They don’t have the arguments. We have the evidence. They have the lobbyists. And that’s all they have. Wall Street Corporations don’t make anything. They don’t produce anything. They gamble and bet and speculate. And when they lose vast sums they raid the U.S. Treasury so they can go back and do it again. Never mind that $50 trillion in global wealth was erased between September 2007 and March 2009, including $7 trillion in the U.S. stock market and $6 trillion in the housing market. Never mind that the total amount of retirement and household wealth trashed was $7.5 trillion or that we saw $2 trillion in 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts evaporate. Never mind the $1.9 trillion in traditional defined-benefit plans and the $2.6 trillion in nonpension assets that went up in smoke. Never mind the job losses, the foreclosures and the 35 percent jump in personal and small-business bankruptcies. There are bundles of new money, taken again from us, to make deals and hand out outrageous bonuses. And when these trillions run out they will come back for more until our currency becomes junk
    —Nalliah Thayabharan

  34. Errmm… look, I’m not a mod, but seems like there’s no mods here in this thread. You are totally not addressing the issue of Occupy Museums but Occupy XYZ. Stop preaching your politics by copy and pasting what we’ve all read a million times into blogs that are actually discussing something way more specific. If you would read it.

  35. @Suzanne Since it is related to the general topic, I’m going to let that comment stand.

  36. Wait. I never asked for it to be removed, I just criticized that it’s missing the point as it’s not contextualised. I came here because ArtInfo invited me in a newsletter to “join the conversation”…

  37. Donald Frazell is a wannabe artist/art critic who has never had an artshow in his life. What makes him an authority on everything under the sun? He never even studied art. How does he know so much? His mother was an artist. Oh and if thats not enough he did manage to drop out of college as a”world history major”. What position in society did this great background earn him? He is a button pusher at a local copy shop and thats about the best he can do with his extensive education in “world history and the arts. He is not being considered by the Vatican or any other establishment for exhibition. He is also known for physically attacking gallery owners when they don’t give him a show. This is a fact. Beware of this man (if you can call him that).

  38. Oh please do provide us with sources to your delicious stories, Archer! :)

  39. For a brief history of the origins and challenges of the now pervasive relation between arts institutio­ns and non-profit structures and the dominant role of the 1% in that relationsh­ip, please take a look at: http://ber­keley.acad­­randonWool­f/Papers/3­17553/Our_­Fishy_Nonp­rofit_Sect­or

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