This Friday at 6 PM: Art Handlers Will Protest MoMA's Ties with Sotheby's

by Corinna Kirsch on March 27, 2012 · 6 comments Rise Up

The Art Handlers outside Sotheby's, last summer.

The Art Handlers outside Sotheby's, last summer.

Sotheby's art handlers want MoMA to sever ties with the auction house, and they have good reason: MoMA has made millions at Sotheby's during the art handler lockout. In November, MoMA auctioned off two paintings by Rufino Tamayo, a sale which amassed over three million dollars for MoMA's acquisition fund.

As confirmed by David Martinez of the Teamsters Local 814, the latest protest will be held this Friday at MoMA. They've invited Occupy Museums to make the event as big as possible—and you should come, too. The reason for this protest is clear-cut: the teamsters want MoMA to stop selling art through Sotheby's. As Martinez relayed to me over the phone, “They can do it at Christies.”

Well, they can and they can't: the MoMA board members with an interest in Sotheby's would cry foul. There are at least four MoMA trustees with ties to Sotheby's. There's Jamie Niven (MoMA trustee and Sotheby's US chairman), Richard Oldenburg (MoMA director emeritus and honorary trustee, former chairman and now consultant at Sotheby's US), Danny Meyer (who runs MoMA's three restaurants and sits on the board of directors at Sotheby's), and Sharon Percy Rockefeller (former Sotheby's Board Member and current President of the International Council for MoMA).

Refusing to do business with Sotheby's might seem like a large demand, but the means to achieve this are fairly simple. Museum staff and committees can refuse to exhibit and acquire works that come directly from Sotheby's or reject invitations to attend Sotheby's auctions. These aren't ridiculous demands for museum staff to consider, not when Sotheby's has forced the 42 art handlers out of work and out of health care. As we reported last week, all the art handlers want at this point is to be assured that every time a union worker quits, he or she is replaced with another union worker. These are very small requests.

If you can make it to MoMA, meet the Professional Art Handlers Local 814 and Occupy Museums outside the main entrance this Friday at 6 PM.


As an extra bonus, here’s a quick map we put together on Muckety of some of the connections between major museums and the two largest auction houses. It’s not complete—we heartily encourage readers to make better maps themselves—but it does show that few of our most prominent institutions are entirely innocent.


Get Real Guys March 28, 2012 at 11:10 am

Your veiled contempt for MoMA is really getting old and so are these “protests”. You aren’t getting the message across to the people who are in charge of these decisions. Instead you are interfering with lobby staff and their jobs, and I’m sure they want to support you coming around and disrupting them in an already tense and busy situation. What about the lower level staff who work at MoMA who have nothing to do with the decisions that go on upstairs, these are the people who get to hear your cute rhyming chants and who are told that MoMA hangs its workers (I was there and that’s poor taste). Also, since everyone keeps talking about Rivera, he was PAID to make those murals and given studio space. Why don’t you take your protest somewhere else, I’m sure there are other NYC museums that do business with Sotheby’s.

Paddy Johnson March 28, 2012 at 11:29 am

Lump it. Click through to the map we put together that shows you exactly who has the most connections to Sotheby’s. MoMA’s number one. This protest is well placed. 

Will Brand March 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm

An “already tense and busy situation”? What, selling tickets to Belgian tourists? Chill out.

Also, what in the hell do the scare quotes around “protests” mean? People are standing around yelling that they want changes; which criteria aren’t being fulfilled, here? “You” do understand those little marks have a fairly specific “meaning”, and don’t just exist to fling “doubt” wherever you please, right?

Anyway, to the point, I think just about everybody involved understands that the visitor-facing staff aren’t the problem; cops aren’t the problem with Wall Street, either. They’re the people who, ideally, do their jobs as usual while protests occur nearby. It’s cool. Nobody’s going to murder you; they just need a place to stand and yell.

Also, neither of my two childhood friends working in chump visitor-facing jobs at MoMA have mentioned having any kind of problem with the protests, and they know I’m publishing all this mean stuff all the time. If they don’t care, I’m not about to bend over for some anonymous internet commenter.

really March 30, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Thank you for your snarky comment Will. I used the quotes because I feel this protest is a joke. You come and yell in a museum that is not the place of the main action. If MoMA stops doing business with Sotheby’s, how will that guarantee the return of the union workers? What is the grand plan? I’m sure the Belgian tourists will no longer use Sotheby’s for their art selling needs.

Gmack100 March 30, 2012 at 9:18 am

They “Are Real Guys” who are hurting do to the 1%’s lust for even more of the greed pie.I agree with Will Brand here…

Paddy Johnson March 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Effective protests aren’t achieved by attacking one outlet and letting them have it, but striking as many different areas as possible. If MoMA stops SELLING at Sotheby’s — realistically they may still need to buy — than Sotheby’s suffers financially for their actions. Will that guarantee the return of the union workers? No, but it would be one strong punch landed in a fight and that means something. You can’t win a fight like this without making the issues visible through protests, AND working behind the scenes. Sotheby’s treatment of their art handlers isn’t some isolated case. Worker unions across the country are being attacked. This is the most visible fight in New York, so it means something. 

The thing that rubs me the wrong way about your comment is that it reads like these protests are simply a nuisance to you. I get that, but there are 43 workers with families who are going to be a lot more than inconvenienced without healthcare. Even if the protests were misplaced the comments would still be completely lacking in generosity. I’m surprised your so comfortable championing the position. 

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