* *


In a display of anachronistic cultural militance, artists and activists in London, Baltimore and San Francisco are planning an 'Art Strike' to last three years beginning January 1, 1990. "We call on all cultural workers to put down their tools and cease to make, distribute, sell, exhibit, or discuss their work from January 1st 1990 to January 1st 1993," begins a 40-page Art Strike Handbook, published last spring.

"We call for all galleries, museums, agencies, 'alternative' spaces, periodicals, theatres, art schools &c., to cease all operations during the same period." While it's unlikely that the luxury market called art will collapse from lack of product early next year, the importance of the Art Strike lies in the nobility of its gesture a calmly strategic 'no' that Herbert Marcuse called 'the great refusal.

Though the strikers claim to have fellow travellers as far dispersed as Uruguay and Ireland, none to date have stepped forward in New York. Here in the capital and Babylon of artistic ambition, artists won't sabotage their future by abstaining from the race toward the big time.

Stewart Home, a member of the London committee says that on January 1, "I will stop doing things publicly that will make people think of me as a creative person." Home has published a novel and a book of essays, plays in a punk band called King Mob, organises conferences, and teaches occasionally at London Polytechnic all of which activities he will cease. For three years, he plans to sell his labour 'in ways that no one would normally interpret as my individual creative act,' for example as a clerk or in construction work.

The art strikers believe that art is not the residue of some enchanted crusade, but merely another product of human labour, like meals or computer chips. Their flat mercantilism places the refusenik activists oddly in sync with current standards, by which all aesthetic objects are commodities, plain and simple. By their (in)action, the strikers seek to force the recognition of artists as labourers who can, if they choose, shut down the production line that serves the senses.

'The Art Strike has a Zen quality of tearing down a logic, but leaving nothing in its place,' says John Berndt of the Baltimore Art Strike Action Committee of 100, which has a handful of members. Berndt has helped stage Art Strike pickets at the Maryland Institute of Art, and Baltimore art openings, and has disseminated 10,000 strike flyers. In January, he plans to stop his work as an experimental musician and performance artist'. 'I believe in helping institutions to self-destruct and trying to get as much information out of that process as possible'.

'Any way that I can sabotage commodity culture attracts me,' says an art striker in San Francisco who, in the venerable spirit of the anonymous collective, declined to be identified. According to another striker, when top- selling New York minimalist Carl Andre apparently heard word of their actions he wrote the Bay Area group to denounce them as 'reactionaries.' The 10-member San Francisco committee is planning a New Year's Eve action at Artists' Television Access Gallery to inaugurate the strike.

Recently, the editors of Photostatic, a marginal art magazine in Iowa City, stated their intention to stop publication in January as an Art Strike action. Stewart Home recently spoke about the work stoppage at the prestigious Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, an appearance that might be likened to an atheist lecturing a convent. 'It's not important to have hundreds of people stop work,' he says, 'but to disturb and demoralise those who endorse the system of artistic production and distribution'.

No well-known artists have aligned themselves with the strike, and cultural work will go forward largely unperturbed, but to look for names is certainly to miss the point. New York is full of artists who are also waiters. By canceling their personae as creative individuals, those who strike are choosing a real and immeasurable sacrifice. The art strikers seem to have studied the old modernist history of epater les bourgeois, espoused by such ace propagandists as Richard Huelsenbeck. In 1920, the German Dadaist wrote, 'The bourgeois must be deprived of the opportunity to buy up art for his justification.' But it remains to be seen whether the Art Strike is truly a work stoppage or merely another piece of performance more art, or less'.

Edward Ball, first published in the Village Voice, New York 14/11/89.

Art Strike Start

Next ((adding more fuel to the Art Strike fire)

Previous (texts generated by an Art Strike action in Albany)

Art Strike Papers cover