Whitney To Use Sotheby’s Auction House in Midst of Art Handler Lockout

by Paddy Johnson on May 21, 2012 Rise Up

Whitney Groundbreaking with Michael Bloomberg, Adam Weinberg, Robert Hurst, Neil Bluhm, Brooke Garber Neidich, and Kate Levin

I guess we know why Whitney Director Adam D. Weinberg was willing to say the museum had no intention “to respond one way or the other” about Sotheby’s art handler lockout. This morning we received a tip that the Whitney is planning an auction through Sotheby’s to fund the construction of their new building. Donated works will kick off the Sotheby’s day and evening sales on November 12-14, 2012. The Museum is asking selected blue-chip artists for donations of work worth over $500,000 and their total goal is $15 million.

While we support the museum’s construction efforts, we find the use of Sotheby’s unacceptable and are asking artists to refuse the Whitney’s requests for donations. Sotheby’s has locked out their handlers and is demanding the gutting of the art handlers' union, the elimination of health insurance and other benefits, and the replacement of full-time skilled workers with temporary unskilled laborers. They are making these demands in the midst of another year of record-breaking profits.

The Whitney’s decision to use Sotheby’s should be cause for great embarrassment. The museum has other choices and should have explored them. Surely Christie’s could have just as easily managed that sale; multiple board members at the Whitney have direct ties to Christie’s, and Whitney trustee Casey Wasserman just sold a portion of his grandparents’ collection at the auction house last fall. Holding this auction in a way that supports workers might have been very easy.

But now it’s not, and we’re asking artists to help. If you’re being asked to donate work to the Whitney, refuse to do it unless the museum uses a different auction house. Sign our petition, and when you do, send us an email and let us know. The museum doesn’t have to use Sotheby’s, a company bent on exploiting its workers. It’s doing so because no one’s made it clear to them that they shouldn’t.

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