ArtFagCity: Why Karen Archey is Wrong About Occupy Museums



In a piece yesterday at artINFO, Karen Archey asks, “Why is Occupy Wall Street Protesting NYC Museums, and Not Super Rich Galleries and Art Fairs?” The post is aimed at Occupy Museums, the Occupy Wall Street Arts and Culture Working Group project that began protesting yesterday outside MoMA and the New Museum. Archey thinks the movement’s energy is misdirected, and might be better spent looking into art-worlders more directly associated with the market. It’s an intelligible post, and it’s true that the influence of a small group of private firms holds undue weight in the crafting of art history. Pretty rapidly, however, Archey’s post descends into personal axe-grinding against Art Fag City.

First of all, Archey’s question about Occupy Museums only makes sense if you’re not paying attention. For Occupy Museums to direct its criticism at state-funded, public-serving museums is in exact accordance with the methods of the Occupy movement as a whole: every official demand to emerge from the Demands Working Group has been directed at government institutions, rather than private industry. Even Adbusters’ original call, back in July, was addressed not at banks or investment firms but at Barack Obama, demanding he “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.” While the Occupy movement has also endorsed a boycott against the banking sector, its principal demand has always been for a change in government regulation.

It doesn’t take much to draw the connection here between government and museums. After all, as Archey points out, “museums are exceedingly bureaucratic and held responsible for using tax payer dollars”. All of those taxpayer dollars are dispensed with the explicit understanding that museums are to act in the public service. The bureaucrats who run the country’s biggest museums are an altogether fitting analogue to our legislature: their salaries are paid for our taxes, and the decisions they make affect everyone. Archey asks, “Should they be occupied because their curators and directors are arbiters of taste?” Yes! Yes, for exactly the same reason that we direct our demands at the arbiters of commerce. This is what this entire movement is about.

Further, Archey does not seem to be able to distinguish between requests for change and requests for demolition. It is of course true, as she says, that museums “should be supported in weaving art into our cultural fabric”. No one said anything to the contrary. Protest is not unpatriotic simply because it is directed against an institution one supports. The entire history of institutional critique in art stands as a testament to this.

The rest of Archey’s post is largely turned over to personal attacks. She implies that Noah Fischer is unfit to organize the Occupy Museums protests by virtue of his being represented by Claire Oliver Gallery, writing, “Is YOUR art for everyone? I think not.” This is akin to the accusations leveled by the right-wing media that the Occupy protesters are insincere because they use mobile phones or internet platforms produced by large corporations. She then speculates that Occupy Museums is “born out of misdirected bitterness toward an institution that has yet to accept [Fischer] in the way that [he wants]”. Apparently Noah Fischer, art-world insider, is frustrated that he has no works in MoMA’s collection at the age of 34. In Archey’s telling, he is at once complicit with the art world (because he works with Claire Oliver) and enough of an outsider to expect early-career acceptance at MoMA.

Lastly, she turns over a section to accusing us of… something or other. Quoting a section of Occupy Museums’s press release: “We recognize that art is for everyone, across all classes and cultures and communities,” she writes:
*Coincidentally, “Art for Everyone” is the same motto used by Jen Bekman of 20×200, who not only frequently sponsors Art Fag City but also was lauded by [AFC Editorial Director Paddy] Johnson for raising almost a million dollars of venture capital for that business. So I’m a little confused, are exceedingly large amounts of money in the hands of people that control the art world bad or good? I guess it depends on the day.
The evidence goes thus:
  • The press release produced by an art offshoot of a movement whose favorite word is “everyone” contains the phrase, “Art is for Everyone”.
  • 20×200, the editions dealer, uses “Art for Everyone” as its motto.
  • 20×200 has been a sponsor of Art Fag City.
  • Paddy Johnson, Art Fag City’s editorial director, posted Occupy Museums’s press release on her tumblr.
  • …So I guess maybe we staged some protests to sell prints for our friend?

This is nonsense. To make this argument, Archey must ignore a quarter of the words she quotes. She must ignore the long history of democratic rhetoric in art. She also must ignore the fact that there really isn’t any connection between 20×200 and Noah Fischer.

Democracy, as silly as this sounds, is a part of Art Fag City’s brand. It’s why we like net art, it’s why we like multiples, it’s why we like protests, it’s why we offer our material for free and why we work to encourage intelligent discussion in our comments. It’s sort of a theme for us, and it’s a theme people know about and like, and it’s been that way since long before 20×200 purchased their ad space.

The Occupy Museums press release ends on a positive note, heralding “an era of new art, true experimentation outside the narrow parameters set by the market.” Far from calling for museums to close, it asks them to “open your mind and your heart!” We can support our museums and still want change, and that doesn’t make us misguided or corrupt or immoral. It makes us art lovers.


Tagged as: ArtInfokaren archeyNoah Fischeroccupy museumsOccupy Wall Street