No Comment, the Occupy Wall Street art exhibition, is even more rife with controversy than when it opened. Following speculation that curator Marika Maiorova may have been using the Occupy Wall Street movement to pay back the rent owed from her previous 9/11 show, the dealer is now facing backlash from No Comment participants over last-minute changes in sales contracts.
While deinstalling Saturday's initial No Comment show, artists and Occupy Wall Street volunteers learned that Maiorova had extended the length of the show, and rental agreement, with an anonymous $5,000 donation through Occupy Wall Street. The show ran for another four days, with a closing party and auction scheduled for Thursday, October 13th. Two hours before the auction, OWS reps and artists received emails informing them of a new sales contract.
The original contract had promised to allocate funds in thirds to artists, dealers, and either the Occupy Wall Street fund or the Feelgood Foundation for 9/11 responders. The new agreement reads: “50% of the proceeds go to: Loft in the Red Zone Gallery to recover the costs of the Event. After recovering costs further revenues from the 50% commission will be shared between LOFT IN THE RED ZONE and optional either OCCUPY WALL STREET or FEEL GOOD FOUNDATION.” This means that charities are placed on the back burner in favor of a 50/50 split between artists and dealer, with the promise that, once costs are met, the commission would be split equally between the gallery and charities. Notably, this split does not reflect most commercial gallery agreements, whereby the gallery is responsible for covering all expenses related to the launch of the exhibition.
As costs were running high, it would be unlikely that either the Feelgood Foundation or Occupy Wall Street would see any proceeds. At this point, there were severe financial problems left over from the 9/11 Memorial show: Maiorova's Kickstarter for “Loft in the Red Zone” scrounged only $448 out of its $20,000 goal. Artists were further affronted by the hastily-written addendum:
***The artists commits: Art works not sold in today’s auction, RED ZONE IN THE LOFT will receive 15% commission of artists revenues if this art piece get sold in other venues/galleries, etc.
Both volunteers and artists were outraged at the proposal of a seemingly life-long commission owed to the dealer of a one-time group exhibition that had included their work for less than a week. Not only does this violate acceptable dealing standards, they argued, but it circumvents artists' established contracts with galleries and the movement on which the show was centered. As one OWS volunteer pointed out, “Some of these artists already had gallery representation. There was no consensus. There was none of the democratic process of Occupy Wall Street in those meetings.”
Maiorova believed her requests to be perfectly reasonable. Apparently, so did the artists and lawyers; according to Maiorova, only three out of 45 artists did not sign on to the contract, and when she spoke to her lawyers (admittedly after the fact), “attorneys, every one agreed it was legal and not immoral.” Decisions were made and contracts drawn up without Occupy Wall Street's total consensus process because the show was extremely last-minute and would otherwise have been impossible to execute. The added fee, she claimed, went to an auctioneer who, as a favor to the movement, charged 20% of the final sales, rather than his usual 50% commission. Standard auctioneer commissions are 10% but no matter. “Most artists didn't have a problem [with the fee],” said Maiorova. “We felt it was only fair, for all the work we had put in promoting the pieces. Those works will sell afterwards because of their participation in the show…most artists don't have gallery representation.” The show is now moving to the Chelsea Museum, where most artists, claimed Maiorova, were happy to follow.
Maiorova denied incorporating any debt from the 9/11 show in the fee and claimed that she had paid her rent for the 9/11 show by September 30th. And anyway, there was hardly any profit from No Comment. “I'm a first-time curator,” she told me. “It was all rushed, and by the end, I felt very discriminated against. We were there from 10 AM to 12 AM, midnight, working nonstop, and [Occupy Wall Street] people would often come in just to meet and hang out. [Eventually] they boycotted me, and when I was moving, I found myself cleaning up everything on my own: all the wine bottles, water bottles, and trash.”
On the controversy following the extended show, independent volunteer and curator Frank Shifreen commented that it's unwise for protesters to condemn Ms. Maiorova. “They need friends. She made mistakes, and people can learn from it.”
The “No Comment” debacle coincides with many franchises that have sprung up on the heels of Occupy Wall Street. “Co-opting the movement” is now a common turn of phrase used around Zuccotti Park, as a slough of private groups, T shirt vendors, and the like are finding more ways to make a profit without donating anything to the movement. Café Press, an online T-shirt and accessories merchant, has put out an excessive variety of Occupy Wall Street stuff, from thongs to polo shirts to baby bibs that read “UNFUCK THE WORLD.” This has generated a reluctance for OWS organizers to partner with outside groups, franchises, or political parties, as did the Arts and Culture committee with Loft in the Red Zone. In retrospect, it may be worth asking to what end; how worthwhile was it to burn a flag of dollars or to hang protest signs in the JP Morgan Building? I got the sense that most people, protesters and outsiders alike, would be glad to do away with crazed fundraising efforts and last-minute events in favor of carefully building something that might last.