Let Them Eat Cake: Sotheby’s Board Member Refuses to Negotiate

by Will Brand on December 3, 2011 · 7 comments Newswire

Jacques-Louis David, Marie Antoinette Led to Her Execution, 1793 (detail)

At Thursday night’s meeting of the Hudson River Park Trust, a pair of locked-out Sotheby’s art handlers stood up to ask the chair, Diana Taylor, some questions. Taylor, a former investment banker, sits on the board of Sotheby’s as well as the board of Brookfield Properties, who own Zuccotti Park. She is also, as it happens, the domestic partner of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently joked about the NYPD being his own private army. That private army’s disproportionate presence both outside Sotheby’s and at Zuccotti Park is well-documented.

The questions the art handlers ask are confrontational and sensational, but fair. They ask what will happen to their families, and whether Sotheby’s plans to reenter contract negotiations they unilaterally backed out of four months ago. Taylor’s response is reprehensible:

For those that can’t watch the video: Taylor responds that she has “one thing to say to you. I had one conversation with [Sotheby's CEO] Bill Ruprecht about this, and I told him that if he accedes to any of your demands, I will resign from the board. That’s what I have to say.”

Originally, I had a nicely-reasoned response here about the importance of negotiation. I had written that most things aren’t black and white, that absolutism is an ineffective managerial tactic, and that the unwillingness of Sotheby’s management to even talk to labor organizers simply cannot be the best way to resolve this situation. I had some numbers about exactly how little money Sotheby’s is firing their art handling staff over (low single-digit millions, spread over fifty-odd employees), and exactly how unprecedented a lockout is (only Sotheby’s, among the three major auction houses, has used such a tactic).

I scrapped that, and here’s why: these people simply do not think like us. We are dealing, here, with a group of people who hold real, physical human suffering to be of less importance than the series of abstractions we have developed to determine what belongs to whom. We are dealing with a group who view the social structure of the corporation not as a team or as a vehicle for excellence, but as a convenient way of shielding your personal reputation from the moral liability accrued when you act like a dick all day. There are many tax brackets, but there is only one standard for fairness; at least one member of the Sotheby’s board clearly fails to understand this.

ArtINFO’s In the Air first reported on this story yesterday, and they have an update from the management of Sotheby’s.

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    that “series of abstractions” is behind science, finance, politics and is characterized by an inability to feel, an ego propped up to avoid uncertainty, the separation of mind and heart. 

    it is fatal.

    it is the essence of #ows, though not yet articulated.

  • tiredofthesquabbling

    I’m alienating myself with this comment, but here goes: Even I, who am by no means rich, was offended by his questions. It sounded a great deal as if he was accusing Southby’s of not taking care of his family. It isn’t their fault that he decided to marry and have children….

     I understand the point of Southby’s – if I were a business owner, small or large, I would do what was in the best interests of my family first. This is the job – ya want it or not? Also, I would in no way guarantee someone a job forever. It breeds laziness and carelessness. Expensive works of art won’t survive either one of those traits.Also. railing against people who ‘aren’t nice’ can keep you busy all day, so what’s the point? 

  • Panayiotis Terzis

    @75e8f75c085aca172b287bfdb4742d59:disqus
    “the point” is that these people are the foundation that has enabled Sotheby’s to make record profits this year. How can they possibly justify attempting to strip labor of their benefits and pensions that they worked so hard for, and cut wages for new hires in a year of record profits?

    In this age of fear and division among workers in this country, where business owners keep giving themselves raises while cutting the benefits and wages of their employees American workers are accustomed to having to eat shit and work harder than ever without getting a share of the profits that their increased productivity is generating. Unions barely exist, having been wiped out and villified over the past half century.
    But these kinds of actions-sustained street protests, strikes, etc. are what it took for workers to expect things like a two day weekend, a 5 day work week, an 8 hour workday, a minimum wage, child labor laws, etc. etc. etc.!!!

    “the point” is this: the richest have used their wealth to buy entire governments. They drove the world economy into the ground after pulling one market after another into their casino of financial compensation. They got out with their money before the rest of the world crashed, taking billions out with them. Now they want to use this as an excuse to strip working class people of their basic labor rights so that they can maximize profits even more. Do you want the USA to turn into Indonesia? Because that is the direction we are going in. If this situation makes you feel anything other than outrage, you should check your pulse.

  • Virginia Trembles

    Not having learned from prior scandals, Board members continue to be “dicks”

  • http://twitter.com/ataleofa fewcities

    Sotheby’s INTENTIONAL REALITY http://petercombe.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/occupy-wall-street-sothebys-lock-out/

  • http://twitter.com/ataleofa fewcities

    Sotheby’s INTENTIONAL REALITY http://petercombe.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/occupy-wall-street-sothebys-lock-out/

  • http://twitter.com/ataleofa fewcities

    Sotheby’s INTENTIONAL REALITY http://petercombe.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/occupy-wall-street-sothebys-lock-out/

Previous post:

Next post: