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An “Orgy for the Rich” banner disrupts the Sotheby’s contemporary art sale in London. (image via artsagainstcuts.wordpress.com)

British news sources are reporting that yesterday nearly a dozen protesters “set off alarms and threw fake £50 notes in the air at Sotheby’s [contemporary art auction] before unfurling a large banner bearing the words ‘orgy of the rich.’”

The protest apparently started with the sound of moaning and orgasm-like sounds as Andy Warhol’s Nine Multicolored Marilyns was unveiled — our question is, was it a critique of Warhol or coincidence?

While the indoor protesters were evicted, another group of protesters outside the building in New Bond Street had a mock auction of public services workers and held signs that “1 Warhol = 222 tuitions” and “I Like Money on the Wall,” which included one of Warhol’s well-known dollar sign paintings.

The protesters belonged to a group named Arts Against Cuts, which consists of a group of artists and students protesting the UK government’s plans for massive cuts to public services and the arts in the UK.

The best quote comes from Belgian collector Mark Vanmoerkerke, who said the auction house took the interruption in stride:

It’s fun to see people stand up for what they believe in. An orgy of the rich? They’re not exactly wrong.

Well, that’s certainly self-aware. The strangest aspect of the indoor protest video is the reaction of the audience and Sotheby’s staff, all of whom almost appeared to enjoy the interruption — perhaps they thought it was performance art? Kind of, it seems … as Souren Melikian reported in the New York Times:

If this was a happening, as I overheard another dealer saying in jest, it was too close to the bone to feel like a joke.

Art Market Views reports that the “unusually eventful proceedings achieved a robust $71.1 million (£44.4 million).”

A video of the indoor protest:

A video of the outdoor public slave servant auction protest:

Hat tip Xylo

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

11 replies on “‘Orgy of the Rich’ Protest Hits Sotheby’s”

  1. I think it was cool. It was also non violent. The rich also showed they had a great sense of humor.

    1. I’m not so sure about that. I think people are often better persuaded of something through the use of humour rather than antagonism.

      1. I just think calling it an orgy for the rich isn’t going to make anyone feel they are doing something wrong. Sadly I have never partaken in an orgy but they sound like a good time. If anything the impulsive passionate nature of art auctions is wonderful. You can’t blame them for being rich and you can’t blame them for wanting to socialize, have fun and take risks. What the protest is really about is the cost of the auction and where those funds could be more useful.
        Anyone want to do a “support emerging artists instead” protest at the next NYC auction?

        1. Yeah, it’s about the extreme commodification of art too. I think they’re using the term ‘orgy of the rich’ as a kind of comparison to the decadence and polarisation of something like the late Roman Empire.

          1. That makes sense. As an emerging artist hoping to make less than minimum wage this year from my paintings, it is hard to believe that buying a dead artist’s work for millions has anything to do with supporting the arts.

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