May 15, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Frieze Art Fair's pig-headed refusal to work with unions traditionally responsible for erecting exhibitions throughout the city will be a whole lot tougher to pull off next year when the international event is expected to return to the Big Apple. Participating artists turned-off by Frieze's anti-labor policies are threatening to skip the entire shindig, while the alliance between labor and the arts community has grown significantly deeper.
"I would be honored to participate in the Frieze Art Fair if they change their labor policies," artist Andrea Bowers told LaborPress. "I have received so much support from many artists. Hopefully, other artists will stand up for the values they care about."
The L.A. multi-media artist experienced Frieze's anti-labor policies firsthand at last week's show on Randall's Island when a security guard "mistakenly" tore down the pro-union letters Bowers had affixed outside her exhibition space to protest the show's refusal to have a dialogue with the unions.
Not only did Frieze Art Fair organizers refuse to hire union labor, just as they did when the London group first came to town in 2012, they also refused to even acknowledge union workers or their concerns.
That, however, didn't stop Teamsters, members of Occupy Wall Street and other sympathetic artists participating in this year’s show from brandishing "Un-Fair" stickers and speaking out during the exhibition's opening on May 10.
"I think this has been a great platform for debate and reflection for so many of us in the art world: gallery owners, artists, collectors and supporters," Bowers said. "I hope this experience will make the leadership of Frieze reconsider their approach to dealing with the unions next year."
Frieze Art Fair spokesperson Belinda Bowring said that the exhibition "completely respects others opinions on this matter" and that a formal review of its vendors will be done.
"The New York City District Council of Carpenters [NYCDCC] would be more then willing to help them with their review process, Representative Michael Odenthal said. "The comment was made that they are a new fair and unions would cost too much. Our opinion is that area standards help stabilize our trade. Shame on Frieze for failing to recognize how we could have helped their labor costs. Our certified trade show carpenters are very productive. Their failure to recognize us shows no respect for our opinion. It's profits before people."
In a conversation with Frieze Art fair organizer Matthew Slotover, Bowers was told "the labor costs of unions are too expensive for them.” The artist is now holding Frieze to its declaration about respecting other opinions.
“They stated publicly that they believe in freedom of speech,” Bowers said. “I hope that they do not jeopardize the opportunity for my galleries to exhibit in upcoming fairs because of the subject of one artist's work.”
Despite the cold shoulder the Frieze Art Fair has given organized labor, Teamsters Joint Council No. 16 President George Miranda is upbeat about turning things around in the future.
"As a result of Frieze's union-avoidance strategy, we've been able to create deep and meaningful relationships with the arts community and Occupy Wall Street, as well people on the management side, and some of the artists and galleries," Miranda said. "We will continue organizing into next year where Frieze is planning an even larger show. We hope that Frieze will consider doing the right thing by New Yorkers and hire folks that provide good, family-supporting wages and benefits."
This year's edition of the Frieze Art Fair was the subject of a recent New York City Parks Department hearing in which organized labor voiced some of its concerns to city officials.
Teamsters Joint Council No. 16's Bernadette Kelly said that there needs to be greater transparency in the city's permitting process.
"There are some really big problems with the way they permit big projects in our city parks, and it really should be looked at," Kelly said.