Part of the fun (some would say most of the fun) of the Whitney Biennial is watching certain sections of the art world get worked into a tizzy when the Whitney Museum of American Art offers its "look at the current state of contemporary art in America." This time around, the fun was enhanced by a circus-like demonstration outside the museum, which invited press and art world scenesters to preview the exhibit last night. About 40 protesters, including Occupy Wall Street activists and union art handlers Teamsters, assembled in a long line on the sidewalk to condemn the Whitney for accepting sponsorship money from Sotheby's, is locked in a bitter standoff with the Teamsters Local 814. Here's Katie Sokoler's video of the scene:
Tommy McAllister, a union art handler for Sotheby's, was among those at the demonstration. McAllister told us he's been working for the world famous auction house for 22 years, but for the past eight months he's been collecting unemployment, after Sotheby's "locked out" the union when their contracts expired over the summer. "Sotheby's made a $770 million profit last year, and CEO Bill Ruprecht gave himself a $3 million raise," McAllister told us. "That $3 million raise is almost exactly the total cost of the art handlers’ proposed contract, for $3.3 million." Ruprecht now earns almost $6 million, according to a website affiliated with the union.
Pointing to the Occupy Wall Street protesters who had joined him in solidarity, McAllister said, "Teamsters were the first union members down at Occupy Wall Street. The corporations, the 1%, are smothering us. We're making a stand with them against the same system." Occupy Wall Street activist Gary Roland added, "Artists aren't paid to be in this exhibit, and it's a highly exploitative system." That said, Roland pointed out that at least one artist connected with Occupy Wall Street is featured in the Biennial: Georgia Sagri, who has a performance/installation piece on the fifth floor. Another Occupy Wall Street protester also confirmed that Occupy was behind the Whitney Biennial parody website.
Whitney representatives refused to comment on the demonstration, and Sotheny's has not responded to a request for comment. Inside the museum, the festivities proceeded unperturbed, though one protester was able to infiltrate and walk through the museum handing out flyers blasting the Whitney's partnership with Sotheby's and Deutsche Bank. Those inside were not unsympathetic to the union, but there was no sense letting that open bar go to waste. Oh, and the art. Right. The aaaahhhhhhrt. The 2012 Biennial features the work of 51 artists working in a wide variety of disciplines. Most striking, perhaps, is the fourth floor gallery, which has been turned into a massive 6,000 square foot performance space for music, dance, theater, and other events. (Special entry and advanced tickets are required for performances by choreographers Sarah Michelson and Michael Clark.)
There's a lot to take in, and while we're not art critics, this Biennial feels particularly diverse, at least when it comes to artistic disciplines. "The breakdown of boundaries between art forms is everywhere in evidence," the curators succinctly and accurately note. Particularly haunting/creepy was an installation by Gisèle Vienne, Dennis Cooper and other collaborators, featuring a blinking, breathing boy mannequin standing in a corner holding a bloody doll. Look for it on the fourth floor... if you dare.
The 2012 Biennial opens tomorrow and continues through May 27th, and we recommend it, despite the stink raised last night! It's free on Friday's between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.; at all other times admission costs $18 for adults. That may seem like a lot, but just think how much more you'd have to cough up if it wasn't for Sotheby's.