Well, not so fast! Occupy is alive and well and living in the rarefied world of obscenely overpriced art and the obscenely wealthy oligarchs who have nothing else to do with their money than invest it in priceless masterworks, only to hide them away from public view. Today is "Shut Down Sotheby's" Day in New York City to protest against the auction of one of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" paintings. (he painted more than one version.) From the OWS website:
Catering exclusively to the mega-rich (by providing a service that makes them richer and more exclusive,) Sotheby's is perhaps the most quintessentially 1% institution there is. Founded before the industrial era, it was the first company ever listed on the NY Stock Exchange, and today (despite the current "recession") is more profitable than at any other time in its 260-year history. Meanwhile, the Sotheby's workers who make those profits possible are given the shaft. Enough is enough. The 99% will not stand silent as union-busting companies like Sotheby's wage class war against us.
Making it even more interesting is the fact that Shrillionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg's girlfriend, former NY Banking Commissioner Diana Taylor, is on the board of Sotheby's. She has actually threatened to quit should Sotheby's CEO accede to the demands of the shut-out Teamsters. "MiDi" has got to be a match made in heaven, given Bloomberg's own disdain for the working class and poor. With a net worth of almost $20 billion, he is adamantly against raising the minimum wage, and insists that food stamp applicants in his fair city get fingerprinted lest they steal crumbs from the maws of the plutocrats. And when it comes to the unemployed and underemployed Occupiers, he is Marie Antoinette in smirky billionaire drag: instead of eating cake, says Hizzoner, they should just go out and become entrepreneurs.
You can see video here of locked-out Sotheby's workers asking Diana Taylor to stand up for them and their families. Her response has all the passion of a bored, pre-guillotine Louis XVI in drag.
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And it's not just the Teamsters giving Diana Taylor some righteous indignation. Investors are planning to demand that she and others resign from the Board at the annual shareholder meeting on May 8, for "gross mismanagement" in wasting money to punish middle class workers, and also for the mishandling of James Murdoch's embarrassing position on the Sotheby's board. The auction company has had its share of scandals over the years, and if there's one thing fabulously wealthy oligarchs don't want now, it's even more bad press and class resentment. This is one thin-skinned crowd. They have not had an equal opportunity to develop life's little calluses.
Even the Ivy League has had it with Taylor and her cadre of plutocrats. Dartmouth students have teamed up with the Teamsters, and are demanding their own college board of trustees cut all ties with the auction house, given its blatant class warfare against working families:
"Taylor's open hostility to the bargaining process, and refusal to end this awful lockout is an affront to my College's values," said Janet Kim, a Dartmouth junior who participated in Saturday's action. "Dartmouth has always been committed to being a socially responsible institution, but Taylor's actions totally fly in the face of that."
Sotheby's reckless behavior has harmed its shareholders. In a recent filing with financial regulators, the auction house disclosed that it had spent $2.4 million in "extra expenses" associated with the first three months of the lockout. (The entire cost of the art handler's contract is $3.2 million.) The lockout has also caused several organizations, including a group affiliated with Oberlin College, to cancel events originally scheduled to be held at Sotheby's.
"Diana Taylor's refusal to publicly use her influence to try to end this lockout not only speaks volumes about how she feels about America's working families, but it should raise serious questions about her stewardship as a board member," said Jason Ide, President of Teamsters Local 814, the union that represents the workers.
I guess it is also no coincidence that Diana Taylor lounges on the board of Brookfield Properties, the quasi-owners of Zuccotti Park, original camp of the Occupy movement. This is another one of those neo-liberal public private partnerships in which taxpayers foot the bills of the ruling class.
Of course, the ultimate irony is that Sotheby's will profit mightily from the sale of "The Scream", an iconic painting that captured the angst and despair and outrage of people buffeted by a cruel authoritarian system over which they have no control.
Munch and other painters in the Expressionist movement wanted to express a new internal, psychological form of reality. Art historian and psychoanalyst Laurie Wilson says the image touches on something primitive within all of us, because we were all once young and helpless like the hairless creature in the picture, wordless and afraid. She says Munch managed to convey something all human beings have felt at some time: "I am overwhelmed. I am helpless. There is nothing I can do and when I try to convey it, in some way, whether I am screaming or expressing some of what nature is screaming at me, other people ignore it."Why would some master of the universe even want to own this painting, given that it symbolizes the pain of the downtrodden? Hmm.... Sadism. Control. Evokes fond memories of crashing an entire economy and the hopes and dreams of an entire generation. Or, alternately: wealthy new owner identifies with the painting because it symbolizes the fact that he is only a multimillionaire and not yet a member of the Forbes 400. It is so unfair that the 400 richest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 160 million combined. It's enough to make one Scream.
Update: The Scream has sold for a record-breaking $120 million, the highest ever price paid for a work of art at auction. The bid was done privately, by telephone. No word on the identity of the new owner, who may be in the Forbes 400, after all.