On January 13th, 2012, OWS Arts & Labor stood in solidarity with locked-out Teamsters Local 814, and 16 Beaver in an action at the Museum of Modern Art, bottom-lined by Occupy Museums. Art handlers from Sotheby’s have been locked out since August 2011. Sotheby’s and MoMA share two board members, including Danny Meyer, who is also the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality group, a corporation that owns the three MoMA restaurants.
In the action, Danny Meyer’s restaurant Cafe 2 was mic-checked, and patrons were informed of the lockout of Teamsters Local 814, and Meyer’s involvement as a member of Sotheby’s board of directors.
A General Assembly (GA) was held by members of all working and affinity groups in the atrium, and they invited museum patrons to participate. In the GA, the irony of MoMA staging an exhibition of the revolutionary painter Diego Rivera’s work, while being complicit in the Sotheby’s lockout of 43 Teamsters was critiqued. Patrons and employees of the museum were also informed of the history behind the so-called “Target Free Fridays,” how the admission free Friday was actually made possible through the efforts of the Art Workers’ Coalition, and their protests at MoMA in the 1970’s. Towards the end of the GA, a 30-foot banner was dropped from the 5th floor mezzanine, hanging down below the 4th, demanding that Sothbey’s end their lockout. The banner hung for a while until it was unilaterally acquired by MoMA security.
On January 27th, 2012, OWS Arts & Labor returned to MoMA with Occupy Museums and members of 16 Beaver to again stand in solidarity with Teamsters Local 814, some of who were present. A boisterous GA was again held in the atrium with speeches made by participants of Arts & Labor, Occupy Museums and Teamsters Local 814. A large, yellow Occupy Wall Street banner was unrolled and held horizontally across the gallery, dividing the space. The issue of the unilaterally acquired banner dropped on Jan 13th was addressed, and terms were stated as to what was required of MoMA, if they were to keep it. The terms were, that when the banner was displayed, it would be displayed with museum notes accurately describing how the work was acquired, that the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC) be credited with “Free Fridays,” and that MoMA and Danny Meyer would come forward to demand Sotheby’s end their lockout.
The head of MoMA security, a fellow art worker, approached the GA, standing behind the unrolled banner, and politely let the GA know his job was to ensure the safety of museum guests and artworks in the museum. This was responded to with enthusiastic “twinkles” from the GA. He explained he would like to return our banner on behalf of the museum. He handed the rolled-up, confiscated banner, in a white plastic bag over the yellow banner. The terms were loud and clearly stated again; clarifying that its return meant that MoMA was turning its back on the locked-out Teamsters. The plastic bag was cut open and the banner was unrolled. The banner was spontaneously lifted at points by participating members and slowly marched out the gallery and down the museum steps, as if it were an extra long coffin. Spontaneous mic-checks erupted, and museum patrons clapped and cheered.
Members of OWS art coalitions and Occupy Sotheby’s continued to carry the banner through the lower lobby of MoMA and walked through the gift shop, startling and surprising browsing museum goers. The banner was eventually placed outside on the sidewalk. Casual conversations ensued and one of the artists of the banner began dripping red paint over the banner. Then, one of the members of the Novads, the art collective responsible for making the banner, asked the locked out Sotheby’s art handlers if they would like to cover their hands with red paint and “sign” the banner. The Teamsters covered their hands with paint as did members of Occupy Museums, Arts & Labor and 16 Beaver, placing their hands on top of the banner in a sign of solidarity and creativity. The action ended with a triumphant applause from OWS members and union participants; the artists of the banner finally carried it away, down 53rd street.
All photos by Leina Bocar.