A small group briefly “occupied” the 39-year-old SoHo nonprofit Artists Space this weekend, starting Saturday at 5 P.M., under the name “Occupy38,” referring to the gallery’s Greene Street address. The group started as only a handful of people, who entered during a scheduled lecture, but reportedly grew to as large as several dozen. The Arts and Culture Group of Occupy Wall Street has released a statement in response, which concludes: “The individuals who intervened there this weekend acted autonomously, with no connection to, support from, or consensus with #OWS.”
Via their tumblr, the group proclaimed on Sunday, “the newly acquired occupied space in Lower Manhattan, which, unlike Zuccotti Park, provides luxurious bathroom and central heating, has just conducted its first general assembly.” Apparently in response to staff’s protests that Artists Space is a nonprofit institution, the occupiers wrote, “To desperately claim profit or non-profit obscures the fact that both assertions of public and private stay within the categorization of the limits of capitalist thought.”
A tipster who claims to know some of the occupiers told A.i.A., “The idea was: They were going to move into Artists Space, which would allow them to stay because they want to protect their reputation as a good, lefty space; then, thousands of people would come join them in the occupation, and slowly the entire art world would be occupied. Good things would result.” Artists Space director/curator Stefan Kalmár told A.i.A. by phone on Monday that, indeed, because of the institution’s liberal bent, it was considered “a ‘weak target,’ in their words. Which I find interesting, rhetorically.” Artists Space wasn’t as welcoming as they expected: When staff tried to stop the occupiers from stealing literature from a storage space, Kalmár said, they told him and other staffers, “We know where you live.”
The Internet was ablaze on Sunday with rumor and speculation. Was it an art performance? Was it sanctioned by Artists Space? Such suspicions were fueled by the involvement of artist Georgia Sagri, who exhibited work at the nonprofit in 2009. (That same year, she presciently titled a show at the Lower East Side gallery On Stellar Rays “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.”) Sagri did not reply on Monday to requests for an interview.
Many social-media commentators roundly condemned the occupiers for targeting an institution actually friendly to the OWS cause, and for displaying a lack of courage by choosing a group that would be unlikely to respond harshly. Sunday night, online magazine ANIMAL New York editor Bucky Turco tweeted, “From what we’re reading on Twitter, #occupy38 is like the North Korea of #ows.”
Artists Space was in the process of taking down a show by Christopher D’Arcangelo, whose anarchist spirit A.i.A.‘s own Faye Hirsch suggested might be inspiring to the OWS protestors. The occupiers made no particular mention of D’Arcangelo, and the timing of their occupation seemed a coincidence.
Kalmár says he proposed to allow protesters to stay indefinitely if certain conditions were met: “They couldn’t jeopardize our lease or damage property. Then a couple of hours later we discovered a laptop had been stolen.”
In the end, the occupation lasted only 28 hours, until 8 P.M. Sunday. “Several security individuals from the building have entered the space and are now preparing to evict us,” reads a post from Occupy38’s Tumblr. “We now see the face of the art ideology as its true form: ex-cops in suits.” Unbowed by defeat and criticism, the group has updated its tumblr by saying, “Let’s occupy something else. Now we know who we can invite.”
Asked about the identities of participants, Kalmár responded, “Don’t we just do them a favor by naming them?” He added, “There weren’t so many artists involved.”