Occupy Wall Street’s “No Comment”: A Cautionary Tale

by Whitney Kimball on October 18, 2011 · 7 comments Newswire

Opening night of "No Comment." Photo credit: Artinfo, David Stam

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.”

Screenshot from Maiorova's Kickstarter for "Loft in the Red Zone"

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.

  • Magda Sawon

    none of these arrangements sound good or appropriate given the occasion and the cause. some would be ungenerous but acceptable in “business as usual” commercial gallery set up. however the cake is topped by this:  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.  Say what? This is pretty unheard of. whom on earth did they find???? Jack the ripper?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=756432856 Kristyan Geyr

      Hi Magda,

      I understand that the last minute change had has the potential to confuse. What you are pointing out about the auctioneer I don’t know – but the final update version, basicly a  fifty/fifty split beween the artist and the galleriest was fair. Also, because it was clear that this show wasn’t sell much, but the exhibited art pieces might sell in the future better because they have been part of this show I think to share 15% of artist revenues with Loft in the Red Zone is not to much to ask for.

      marika was driven by good intentions, in the sake for art.

      Maybe this helps to see things in another light.

      Best, Kristyan Geyr

  • http://www.zacharyadamcohen.com/ Zachary Adam Cohen

    boston strangler

  • Artem Mirolevich

    I am one of artist who participated in “NO Comment” Art Exhibition, curated by Marika Maiorova.   It was a very exciting and interesting event.  The spontaneity, the timing and the surreal atmosphere surrounding this event was incredible.   There was a lot of creative energy and chaos going around prior to and during the first exhibition opening which took place inside the 23 Wall streetbuilding.  Marika, her staff and the artists were working around the clock trying to meet the deadline and prepare for the public arrival.  The curators barely ate or slept for days but they did everything imaginable to ensure that the show will be presented to the public in its best.  All the artists were very fairly treated.  The staff was respectful to the artwork and professional about handling it .  Artists were given sheets to fill out were they were clearly notified that 30 % of the sales will be donated to their choice of organizations and those organizations were listed right below.  The show was a success in many ways and thankfully Marika was able to keep the space for another four days and give an opportunity to artists to keep showcasing their work and to have another opening.  Once again there was a lot of effort, time, money, sweat, blood and tears that went into making it happen.  Marika is one of the main people to thank for it. The decision was made to attract help from professional auctioneer in order to ensure sales.  Michael Powers, professional auctioneer, was kind enough to waive the usual fee but insisted on 20 % commission if the art work is sold with his help.  All participating artists were notified off this condition and thus were given an option to participate in live auction.  I think Marika and everybody else who was involved in organizing this event were very reasonable and, given the circumstances, did their best.  Not everything was perfect but it never is.   I’m glad this show took place and people noticed and Marika was able to catch the momentum and move the show into Chelsea Art Museum which gave the show a new twist and angle.   I, as a visual person, express my feeling and emotions visually and was very happy to have a real platform to share my voice and opinion about the on going situation the best way I know how – visually.  I want to thank everybody who participated and especially Marika Maiorkova for her efforts, energy, bravery and  spontaneity.  I know it was of her first curatorial project and I’m sure she has great success waiting ahead.P.S.  Mistakes are the portals of discovery.James Joyce 

  • WOLF GEYR

    I was participating at NO COMMENT pop-up-art show at former JP MORGAN HQ on 23 Wall Street. I was presenting some pieces of the IN GOD WE TRU$T art-concept by WOLF GEYR.

    I heard about the show in Berlin on October 06th. The next day I was on the plane to New York to bring the art-pieces in personal.

    The set-up of the show was an art-piece for itself. To stage a group show with artpieces related to OCCUPY WALL STREET at this time, in this venue, in this location (former JP MORGAN HEADQUARTERS right in front of the NEW YORK STOCK exchange was a statement.

    When I met Marika Maiorova I found a woman who was crazy enough to stage with a very small team  a group show with a lot of artists. It all was spontanous, refering to what is going on in on Wall Street, in America in the World.

    She took a lot of personal responsability and financial risk to approach to everybodies wish to do this show…to make it happen. She provided for a lot of ambitious artist a one of a kind set-up.

    The price was high: the landlord renting her the building originally to do a 9/11 show and extended the lease with trust built from this collaboration wasn’t delighted at all, when he found out, that now an “anticapitalistic” art-show is staged, the building manager wasn’t happy at all to find graffitis in areas of the building not included the in the lease, and actually forbidden to enter. Twice a group of activist/protesters who took advantage of the open and trustful atmospehre in the event were hanging huge protest banners out of the windows in the top level of the building (also a no-go area).

    After the show was already finished, but Marika Maiorova managed to have the option of extending the lease all the artists encouraged her to go on – and new artist were showing up. There defentetly was a hype – an enthusiastic moment driven by the energy flooding around Wall Street.

    But basicly it was only Marika Maiorova beeing legaly and financially responsable. I ve been with her at the landlords office where guy gave her a heard time by playing tough. I swa her many times crying. Yes – I saw her yelling at other people – but for reason.

    I signed the new contract. I even have encouraged her to set up this new one. Just because I think:

    WHY SHOULD ONE WOMEN TAKE ALL THE EFFORT, PRESSURE, BULLSHIT, RISK to end up with dept and problems, while the artist just hang there stuff, than taking it out – to Chelsea Museum for example (also a benefit came out of NO COMMENT pop-up-art-show) and later cashing in selling the famous pieces which have been part of this show.

    Marika Maiorova has no other chance to recover (we are not talking profits) her costs by having a future share in the art-pieces (not the artist) which have been shown at NO COMMENT.

    What’s wrong with this. And why given her now pressure and bad credit from the ones she was supporting?

    Is this fair?

    Wolf Geyr
    artist

    http://www.wolfgeyr.com

  • Pingback: Occupy Wall Street?s ?No Comment?: A Cautionary Tale | artprintsnews

  • Maaja03

    Marika should be praised for her hard work making this show happen within a few days.
    Her concerns was to make awareness through culture.
    To criticize her and take the well deserved praise she so deserves is not a fair or a  truthful evaluation.
    Marika’s intentions was from her heart ! not motivated by anything other than a way Art can spread a message and show concern. She selfishly gave of her time, and should be thanked for this Show !
    To say this show was a profit making is completely wrong. No Art was sold and the same Art appeared in the Chelsea Art Museum. 
    As an artist in the show I would like to thank her for the chance to show my work at “No Comment ” and the Chelsea Art Museum.
    Please see below a Quote from the NY Times article

    “On Saturday night, the Occupy Wall Street movement managed to gain a temporary foothold on Wall Street, courtesy of an art show partly inspired by the group’s protests.”

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/artists-occupy-wall-street-for-a-24-hour-show/?scp=1&sq=no%20comment%20art%20show&st=cse
    Marika was able to do what no one else was able to do !!

    Thank You Marika !

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