Sotheby’s Orgy Of The Rich Disrupted

Protestors from Arts Against Cuts disrupt Sotheby's Contemporary Art auction in London, Feb. 15, 2011.

Protestors from Arts Against Cuts disrupt Sotheby's Contemporary Art auction in London, Feb. 15, 2011.

On February 15, 2011, as the super-wealthy gathered at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art auction in London to sweep-up even more modern art “treasures” for their fetid private collections, reality intervened to burst their illusions.

Just as Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art was taking bids on yet another oh-so-expensive Warhol silk-screen, chaos broke-out in the auction hall as a dozen art activists set off alarms, shouted, screamed, and threw counterfeit money into the air.

Stunned and impassive bidders watched as activists unfurled a red banner near the auctioneer’s podium that read, “Orgy Of The Rich,” and for all too brief a moment the self-possessed world of the oligarchs came to a screeching halt. Before Sotheby’s security had time to forcefully throw them out en masse, the protestors left the auction hall to stage a demonstration with around 100 of their compatriots in the street outside of Sotheby’s.

All of this was staged by the arts activist group, Arts Against Cuts (AAC), which had previously occupied the Tate Gallery on December 6, 2010 in opposition to the massive spending cuts in the arts now being implemented by the British government. At the demonstration outside of Sotheby’s, an AAC spokesperson offered the following statement:

“We are here to expose the orgy of the rich that the Sotheby’s auctions represent. The super rich, bankers and collectors who buy this art exist in an international bubble of their own and don’t seem at all affected by the so-called ‘austerity’ of the government. They commodify creativity and Sotheby’s helps them ferret away their goods by offering creative accounting services such as ‘obtaining conditional exemption.’

Most of these works will end up in the hands of private collectors or used as tax havens, while vital public provisions such as Education and Health Care get the shaft. This evening’s take of 30 million pounds would pay the annual salary of 1,389 new teachers, 1,765 qualified nurses or the budget of 150 libraries for a year.’

We are fighting back against the most aggressive attacks on the public sector in living memory. We are in solidarity with the other sectors fighting against cuts and openly welcome coordinated creative action to oppose the selling off of our public services, the demise of the welfare state, the speculative valuation of art and the orgy of the rich.”

The demonstration in front of Sotheby’s included comedic political performance art, where costumed artists conducted a mock auction that sold off Britain’s public services. Protestors also carried picket signs making fun of Sotheby’s auction while bringing attention to the government raising student fees, cutting education services, and privatizing libraries and the National Health Service. AAC understands that the slashing of arts funding is part and parcel of the wider attacks against Britain’s poor and working class being waged by the reactionary “Con-Dem” coalition of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

The Sotheby’s auction ended up bringing in 44.4 million pounds ($72 million), but the AAC demonstrators and their supporters made their point. The New York Times art critic Souren Melikian commented that “for the first time in British annals, a rowdy demonstration broke out on Tuesday evening inside the main room of one of the two major international auction houses.” The two auction houses Melikian refers to is of course Sotheby’s and Christie’s, which both have major branches in the United States. With President Obama announcing $1 trillion worth of austerity cuts in his 2012 budget proposal - cuts that will devastate arts funding, severely reduce or eliminate vital social programs, and freeze all non-military government spending - only one question remains, when will there be a U.S. chapter of Arts Against Cuts?

Comments are closed.