Once again today, I'll be at Sotheby's. I won't be inside with a paddle, bidding up the artwork, though I've done my share of that. I'll be standing on the sidewalk, on the picket line next to my friends and co-workers in the art world, the art handlers from Teamsters Local 814.

Now you could say my standing there's a symbolic gesture. The discrepancy between what my friends are paid and what Sotheby's earns is so grotesque that there's no point in rationalizing how much my friends should be paid, or discussing a rational solution to the fact that they've been locked out. The discrepancy between the two sides is the discrepancy between the 1% and all the others - not something you negotiate, something you stand against on principle.

And I'm here to stand against everything Sotheby's says about the art world; it's a message I understand full well from all my years of working in any number of museums, next to the art handlers, the curators, the lecturers, the guards, the visitors and all. Sotheby's message to the Teamsters is the same message I hear daily at the museum: "The world of art, like all the rest, belongs to us, the 1%." When I standing in front of Sotheby's, I'll be standing for all the workers in all the museums and auction houses and galleries who've seen the art world turned into a moral shithole, the Wall Street of culture.

Like many other cultural institutions, Sotheby's is little more than a speculative vehicle, an extension of Wall Street, a brokerage house for Art: Dick Fuld, the CEO responsible for the meltdown at Lehman Brothers that started this whole mess, had his wife, Kathy, on the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art, and Kathy Fuld handled the Fuld's collection the way Dick handled the bonds and derivatives - by handing them over to the auction houses, which handle art the way Moody's handles all the other speculative vehicles.

Auction houses are a hustler's racket, the Lehman Brothers of the Art World, a castle of cards built on statistics so transparently flawed that even the man who developed the system, Michael Moses of NYU, has backed away from his own creation. And I don't really care when a lot of rich fools lose their shirts buying artworks they can't even begin to understand, no more than I care when a couple of brokerage houses go under; but I care a lot when my friends are locked out or lose their jobs because of the same moral and mental rot that flows from the 1%, the Judys and the Mikes and the Dicks. And I care a lot when the rot so distorts the actual worth and value of art that thousands of artists must starve so that a few works can be manipulated in speculative frenzies. And I don't even care about that, since I like buying art as much as I like making it, and thanks to Christie's and Sotheby's there's a lot of really good art out there that's going for a Song. Or a Ming. Just not at Sotheby's.

But I'll be damned if I'm going to pay the price when the Fuld's portfolio collapses, or any other rich idiot; though come to think of it, I do pay, and we're all paying already, through the whole system of State support for "the Arts" and the bailing-out of banks.

Working in the art world nowadays is like working below deck on the Titanic; and I'll be damned if I let the rich hog the life-boats.

Fuld Again


- Paul Werner, PhD, DSFS, UAW.