P. O. Box A3866
Chicago IL 60690-3866
email (press releases)firstname.lastname@example.org Web Site http://www.fredcamper.com/
June 28, 2000.
Ronald S. Lauder, Chairman, Board of Trustees
Members of the Board of Trustees
Agnes Gund, President
Glenn D. Lowry, Director
The Museum of Modern Art
11 W. 53rd Street
New York NY 10019
Dear Ronald S. Lauder, Agnes Gund, Glenn D. Lowry, and others:
I am writing concerning the current strike at the Museum of Modern Art.
Unlike many of my friends, I am not one of those people who supports all strikes. I am troubled by the actions of many labor unions and don't necessarily think all labor demands are just. Therefore, when I arrived in New York City recently for one of my regular visits, I hadn't yet decided what my opinion was of your strike or whether I felt I could visit the Museum, where there were certainly some exhibits I wanted to see, or not. Similarly, I had not signed any of the recent email petitions I received supporting the strike.
While the average yearly salary of these employees seems low for New York City, that alone might not cause me to support the strike. But the attempt to force them to give up negotiating rights over health care benefits seems unconscionable, and my strongest reaction was to the unmistakable sense I got that management was simply not treating these employees as equals whose concerns should be listened to and dealt with as best as possible. In the midst of a $650 million fund-raising campaign along with the hiring of executives at salaries of over $200,000 a year who haven't even proven themselves in their jobs yet, the demands of these long-term employees seem quite reasonable. But what's worse is that the Museum appears to be treating them in an arbitrary and authoritarian manner, rather than attempting to address their concerns and offer some sort of compromise.
I had to conclude that even though I can get press passes (though the MOMA makes it harder for me than every other museum I've ever been to to get free admission), I could not cross the picket line.
There are a lot of ways of reading the history of modern art, but one of its most engaging and laudable threads, in my view, is its attack on previous social hierarchies, which were embodied in both the art and social structures of earlier eras. This is done in a wide variety of ways, but one of them involves an attempt to equalize the relationship between artist and viewer, making the viewer an equal participant in the creation of the work. For the best artists, this is not merely a game, but an attempt to use art to encourage a remaking of the existing social order. To have the chief institutional exponent of such art in the United States use the old form of hierarchical thinking in dealing with its long-time employees is, to put it bluntly, sickening. It also shows a complete lack of understanding of the art that you claim to espouse. Ask yourselves this: What would Malevich, or Picasso, or Barnett Newman think of your strike?
I am a critic and teacher of art and film whose own relationship with MOMA began when, as an early film enthusiast in my teens, I attended your mid-60s D. W. Griffith retrospective. I have rented films from MOMA for classes, and purchased your films for both my own and institutional collections. I don't think I'm the only person willing to engage in a long-time boycott of an institution that does not treat its employees fairly. Indeed, for many years I refused to fly Continental Airlines after it fell before a union-busting Frank Lorenzo.
I wonder if the trustees of the Museum understand the long-term damage that management's arbitrary behavior towards its employees is going to do to the Museum's standing among artists, critics, art historians, art lovers, and the public, unless the strike is settled fairly.