“No artists or art workers were exploited in the making of this show!” shouted a man outside the Armory Show on Saturday, where members of the activist group Occupy Museums were staging their own alternative art fair. The group, comprised of fewer than a dozen people, lined the sidewalk where Armory Show visitors were waiting to enter the exhibition. The action, which is part of a series of demonstrations led by Occupy Museums to expose inequalities in the art world, sought to “offer an experiment in systems of art-exchange that do not emphasize financial capital, but rather celebrate abundance and connection,” according to a statement from the group.
“We’re not protesting the Armory Show,” one of the demonstrators and core organizers, Max, told IN THE AIR. “We’re just trying to show that there is more than one way art can be exchanged.” Indeed, that afternoon, each demonstrator was offering up his or her own individual and unorthodox method of barter or exchange for art. Max was offloading small terrariums filled with miniature sculptures of animals in exchange for a personal item or drawing made on the spot by passerby. (When we arrived about an hour into the first day, she’d already “sold” off four sculptures, including one in exchange for the business card of a wealth manager from Merrill Lynch.)
Another demonstrator was offering small clay sculptures he had created while holding his breath in exchange for any creative product a fairgoer could make in a single breath. (This reporter wrote him a one-sentence article.) Most fairgoers seemed to be amused by the display, even if they did not stop to chat. Children were the most frequent customers, though demonstrators wasted no time in engaging their parents in discussions about the economics of art fairs.
Fair organizers, unsurprisingly, were not as amused as passerby. At various points during the afternoon they used iron gates to cordon off the demonstrators and funnel foot traffic away from them. “Let’s find a new place,” said Occupy Museums demonstrator Noah Fischer, once he realized what was going on. And the group set off to find another spot.
One of the less frequented “mobile booths” in the makeshift art fair was another breath-related exchange. Visitors would blow a given number of breaths into a balloon in exchange for a demonstrator’s balloon filled with one fewer breaths. Though the reference to various economic bubbles was clear, the performance also related nicely to the commerce going on inside. “Obviously, you have to give me one more breath than I have,” the demonstrator said with a wink. “I have to make a profit.”
View a selection of photos from the demonstration below.
— Julia Halperin