Art History with Labor: Working in the Arts Sucks

by Leighann Morris on July 10, 2012 · 8 comments Single File

The Bruces are at it again. This year they launched their second Brucennial and flew to Art Basel Miami to tell collectors why the institutional system is fucked. That wasn’t exactly a packed room, so now they’ve produced a video to spread the word. Art History with Labor, now on view at the Lever House and online takes “FUCK THE MAN!” to a whole new level.

The video draws on Luther’s 95 theses, which were written in 1577 to protest against the sale of indulgences in the Catholic Church. By nailing them onto the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, Luther exposed the greed and corruption of the men of his time. Art History with Labor serves the same purpose. With an abundance of references to popular culture, including youtube clips of Jerry Springer, excerpts from Fight Club, and quotes from Adorno, the video works satirically to reveal consumption and capitalist hierarchy as the cardinal sin of modern America in 95 separate points.

With the Occupy movement grabbing so many headlines, Art with Labor seems sure to grab a few eyeballs.  It comes at a time when the relationship between art and labor is more fraught than ever; when Sotheby’s has locked 43 members of its unionized art handlers out of work, when internships demand full time hours for no wage, and when 58% of artists in New York City do not get paid for exhibiting at non-profit institutions.

If you’ve got even a few minutes, put this video on; like much of the work produced by the Bruce High Quality Foundation, it’s hilarious and sharp witted. The Bruces ask us: how can art and labor exist fairly in an era of institutional tyranny, cultural emptiness, and economic corruption? Or put another way [Thesis point #57], how can art exist in an era of Kelis informing you that her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard?


richwob22 July 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm

terrific amount of history, good focus on the only war worth fighting: the class war

superpotato7 July 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm

this work is being shown at the Lever House, which means it’s owned by Aby Rosen, one of the wealthiest collectors in NYC.  which means it’s a tooth-less critique which has been already co-opted by the type of capitalist it already purports to attack.  you go get ’em BHQF.  That’s some pretty tough stuff.  

lululola July 11, 2012 at 6:26 pm


Jason Edward Kaufman July 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm

An episodic docu-romp, indignant and humorous, that erratically canvasses (mostly modern) history for examples of social injustice, economic oppression and intellectual hypocrisy, and mildly chides viewers to rise and rebel against corruption and greed. Evidently the Bruce gang have sold their manifesto to the owner of Lever House, the same modernist tower that features in their film as an exemplar of the corporate exploitation of labor they oppose. A commentator has noted that the rebels’ anti-capitalist chorus has been so readily co-opted that its message is defanged and their sincerity rendered suspect. But who else is going to fund their provocations, their parents? 

superpotato7 July 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm

i can see why you made that last comment, since you work for sotheby’s

Donald Frazell July 20, 2012 at 3:49 pm

As a real history major, this is an insult, and quite boring, cant watch it. Mr Kaufman has it right, the artscene itself is so sold out it doesn’t know where its head is at, buried deep in the nexus of its capitalist patrons.

One cannot fight the power from within the belly of the beast. You ARE the beast, but soon to be pushed out of that nexus for new entertainments to consume. This isnt art. 

Will Brand July 23, 2012 at 11:30 am

“One cannot fight the power from within the belly of the beast.”

What about at the end of Men in Black?

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