Orgy of the Rich – Courtesy of LaunchProjects

Mar 01, 2011

Last week one of the blogs we follow, LAUNCHPROJECTS, featured an article about five protesters who snuck into the Sotheby’s auction house in London to bring attention to the potential budget cuts for arts programs in the UK. LAUNCHPROJECTS is a private exhibition venue dedicated to developing contemporary artists careers including artist representation, secondary market sales, and presenting provocative, engaging, and relevant exhibitions and installations. We are major admirers of ballsy protest and give kudos to LAUNCHPROJECTS for spreading the word on this action. Read their article below.

LAUNCHPROJECTS – Tuesday’s evening auctions at Sotheby’s London experienced an unprecedented moment – five protesters snuck into the room and disrupted the auction process. The protestors threw fake £50 notes in the air and then unfurled a large banner stating “orgy of the rich”. The demonstrators belonged to Arts Against Cuts, a group of artists and students protesting a recent plan by the U.K. government to explore budget cuts for arts programs in the wake of the recession.

Their protest began with moaning as Andy Warhol’s Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series) was presented by Sotheby’s star auctioneer Tobias Meyer. The moaning escalated to screaming, shouting, sirens, and alarms while dozens of protesters rallied outside the auction house, shouting and waving banners. One particularly poignant sign read 1 Warhol = 1,222 tuitions.

In the words of New York Times contributor Soren Melikian, “If this was a happening, as I overheard another dealer saying in jest, it was too close to the bone to feel like a joke. It chimed well with the Whatever the reality, this may have long-term repercussions in the market. People deeply involved in art, rich and not so rich, tend to live in their own cocoon. They are not used to having the worries of the rest of the world thrown in their faces.”

Rob Parsons and Godfrey Baker of the London Evening Standard quoted a protester explain that “it is obscene that the amount of money being spent at this auction could be the difference between having some form of local services which exists in the community and not.” Belgian collector Mark Vanmoerkerke said the auction house took the interruption in its stride. He said: “It’s fun to see people stand up for what they believe in. An orgy of the rich? They’re not exactly wrong.”

My guess is that Vanmoerkerke’s flash of insight did not influence his enthusiasm or spending, nor did the protest have any effect on the rest of the evenings sales. The notably small sale raised £44m. When combined with the results of the single-owner sale Looking Closely held the previous week, Sotheby’s total for its post-war art auctions fetched £88m – the second highest February in the auction’s history.

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