Arts and Labor Spoke at a Frieze Panel Today; The Teamsters Did Too, Sort Of

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Amid the ongoing protests by New York city labor unions over Frieze New York’s use of non-union workers (protesters from local unions showed up for the second day in a row not far from the white tent), a representative from activist group Arts & Labor was allotted time to make a brief statement ahead of a scheduled panel discussion at the fair. Before artist Suzanne Lacey and Creative Time curator Nato Thompson delved into a fascinating discussion about socially engaged practice, Blithe Riley took the podium to read a statement noting the her organization had joined forces with the local Teamsters union to “speak out against inequitable hiring practices.”

Riley noted that Frieze is the “only major New York art fair to be built by non-union workers, for the second year in a row. The ground on which this tent stands is public. It belongs to us all. When we lend it to Frieze we have an obligation to ensure that it serves the public good and not just private profits.”

Riley, who wore a shirt that read “Frieze Is The Wrong Art Fair,” kept her statement brief. But she threw the crowd for a loop when she then announced that the initial plan for the presentation had been for her and a teamster organizer to each make a statement. “At the last minute Frieze organizers asked us to combine the statement into one, “ said Riley. The crowd erupted into laughter and applause at her next bit of information: “So I’m going to do a quick clothing change.”

She then pulled on a black t-shirt that sported the logo of Teamsters Local 814, the local union on whose behalf representative Julian Tysh — seated in the audience — had been planning to speak.  “Hi my name is Julian, a long time art handler…” said Riley, before reiterating many of the points made in the A&L statement, ending by urging Frieze organizers  to “come to the table with city unions.”

Responding to an inquiry by ARTINFO, Frieze organizers offered this statement regarding the event:

Frieze invited Suzanne Lacy and Nato Thomson to take part in Frieze Talks – in conversation with each other.  Subsequently Nato Thomson proposed to Frieze that a representative from Arts + Labor take part in the talk, since their subject was to centre around activism, and Frieze agreed that this was the best way to include their voice as part of the conversation.

— Eileen Kinsella

(Image via Ustream.)