Artists Occupy Wall Street


Artists’ involvement with the Occupy Wall Street movement is growing, from impromptu exhibitions and guerrilla theater to conceptual statements, in real-life and online.

“No Comment,” a one-night art show, was organized in less than a week and opened in the old JP Morgan building, on Wall Street, on Oct. 8th. Much of the work was straight-up protest art, like Charles Vargas’s image of an American flag on which visitors could write their own messages. Some of it was just straight-up protest; the show featured a wall of protest signs on loan from Zuccotti Park.

When A.i.A. visited Zuccotti Park recently, artists were silkscreening T-shirts for visitors with logos like “We Are the 99%.” (Reviews have been especially favorable for the one A.i.A. brought home, in which the Wall Street bull’s horns have been broken off and turned into horns of plenty.) Clever or angry cardboard signs (“Our economy could be more fair,” for an understated example), drum circles and dancing form a kind of street theater. There have been live poetry readings by the members of poetry@occupywallstreet. On the lighter side, a parade was organized in which participants dressed as Wall Street zombies, hungry for Main Street brains. New York-based artist Andy Golub, known for body-painting nude women in public, has brought his act to Zuccotti Park as a show of support.

More widely recognized names have also been getting involved. Martha Colburn filmed an Oct. 2 march with her Super 8 camera and posted the results to YouTube. She told A.i.A., “I think more people filmed me with my antiquated equipment than filmed the protest. And the camera was louder than the march, too.”â?¨â?¨Street artist Shepard Fairey got in on the action last week, providing a graphic flyer for Saturday’s Times Square demonstration. Drawing on 1960s-era Black Power graphics, the invitation features a black woman with an Afro standing in front of an intense red background, emblazoned with the words “You are invited to the Occupation Party.”

Last week, the movement received a more highbrow imprimatur, when the anonymous artist group AND AND AND announced that as part of next year’s Documenta 13-and in solidarity with OWS-they will “consider with individuals and groups across the world the role art and culture can play today and the constituent publics or communities which could be addressed.” This is the 10th “action” by the group since 2010. In an e-mail to A.i.A., AAA said that their statement of solidarity was “an invitation for artists and others to not see themselves outside this process” but that no concrete work or actions had emerged.

Artist Amy Wilson has visited Zuccotti Park a number of times. She was thrust into an art-and-politics imbroglio in 2005, when a detail of her drawing of the infamous hooded figure at Abu Ghraib was made a centerpiece of a successful campaign to prevent the Drawing Center (which exhibited the piece) from moving to the Freedom Center. On a break on Monday from designing pins for the OWS movement, she described the scene there to A.i.A.: “It’s like a gathering of the nicest, smartest people in the world who are building a whole new society based on all the values we should hold dear: love, respect, sharing and compassion, instead of the greed and divisiveness our current culture encourages. And I know that sounds ridiculous, but somehow it’s true, and it’s actually working.”

The artists’ involvement also includes a critique of the commercial system that is the art world. “1% art collectors control our museums, critics and curators,” read an Oct. 8 tweet by @occupyartworld—news to this critic. Perhaps to preempt anything similar to the widespread criticism of OWS for its unclear demands, the previous day @occupyartworld tweeted, “We want art jobs, better funding for art education, more funding options for art students, art museums to reflect the interest of the public.” As for the first three, fine, but regarding museums catering to public taste, our recommendation: check out Komar & Melamid’s “Most Wanted Paintings” project, in which they polled the public about what they like to see in art, and produced exactly the kitsch that was wanted. Following popular preference can result in really shitty art.