This week, Jersey City’s Mana Contemporary made the surprise announcement that they will be creating a street art and graffiti museum in a 100,000-square-foot former ice factory near the Holland Tunnel entrance.
A few times during her talk last week, historian and curator Yasmin Ramírez looked over at the copy of Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era by Julia Bryan-Wilson sitting on the table in front of her. It wasn’t a look of love. Each time she referenced the book it was, at least in part, with a sense of frustration that despite being one of the only books devoted to the subject of the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC), Bryan-Wilson largely left out the involvement of black and Puerto Rican artists, who played critical roles in the efforts of the group.
At one point, Arts & Labor member Blithe Riley, who was in the audience at the round table, made a comment about “freaking out a little.” This highlighted the disconnect between the political and social aspirations of Arts & Labor and the general role of art critics for me.
Last Thursday night at Housing Works Bookstore, Occupy Wall Street affinity group Arts & Labor organized a panel of New York art writers to discuss the labor of art criticism. Village Voice and New York Times critic Martha Schwendener opened the round table with the question, “What is the labor of writing?” Schwendener and Arts and Labor proposed a discussion about the working conditions of art criticism in an effort to dispel some prevailing myths, which she framed as power, authority, and allure. She then started things off with an open question to the panel about how they became art critics.
Yesterday, OWS walked into North End Grill in Manhattan’s Financial District to raise awareness among patrons that the establishment is owned by Sotheby’s board member Danny Meyer, who is part of a company that has lockout unionized art handlers since August 2011.
I left the 2012 Whitney Biennial with a feeling of leadenness that no amount of free coffee (available at Monday’s press preview, and many thanks for that) or Werner Herzog’s video ode to beauty (“Hearsay of the Soul,” 2012) could alleviate.
This week, the Whitney Biennial opens but Occupy Wall Street’s Arts and Labor working group has already started to question the usefulness of the exhibition for artists and cultural workers, many of whom are unpaid to participate.