Group Occupies Artists Space in SoHo [Updated 10/24]

After more than 24 hours, Artists Space's board asked the occupiers to leave, and they complied, according to executive director and curator Stefan Kalmár. "There was no force," he said.
takeartistsspace e1319423683728 Group Occupies Artists Space in SoHo [Updated 10/24]

One half of the leaflet distributed by occupiers. (Courtesy Occupy 38)

October 24, 9:00 AM: The group that occupied Artists Space on Saturday after noon, remaining until they were asked to leave yesterday evening, have issued a statement on their Tumblr blog, which provides some background on their action. It begins as follows:

“The occupation at 38 Greene Street ended at 8PM on Sunday October 23rd, 28 hours after it began.

“The administrators of the Artists Space, under the influence of their board of directors, brought in a paid private security force of five to affirm the sanctity of their non-profit private property.

“Earlier, the Executive Director and his minions (apparently ignorant of their own exploitation and unwilling to join in the occupation) had been rudely shoved aside by a fraction of the movement which attempts, in sometimes distorted ways, to develop a critique of the existent. Clinging to the veneer of legitimacy still provided, in some minds, by the non-profit industrial complex, he took advantage of the occupiers’ patience and tolerance to hinder, as best he could, any real flourishing of rebellion in the space he had formerly controlled.

“Threatening and reminding us of the illegal nature of the occupation and his power to bring down the NYPD on our heads, he belligerently intimidated while farcically insisting on his sympathy with the movement. If he did not immediately use police violence to evict the occupation, this was of course only because of his cowardly attachment to his so-called “radical” credentials, status and image.”

The full statement is available here. The occupiers have declined to speak with the media, and have not responded to requests for an interview.

The group concludes the post with the following message: “This was just a beginning. How can the rest of New York City remain unoccupied? It can’t. We will occupy everything.”

October 23, 9:30 PM: The occupation seems to be over. Reached by phone, Artists Space executive director and curator Stefan Kalmár confirmed to us moments ago that the organization’s board held a conference call and agreed to ask the protestors to leave. Mr. Kalmár said that he made the announcement to the group this evening, and they proceeded to do so. Two security guards were present, he said, though “there was no force. Everybody left bit by bit.”

Artists Space has posted a message on its website explaining its position, which reads, in part:

“After participation of all staff members in now 24 hours of discussion with the occupiers and enduring physical threats and theft of property, and more so as a result of this being an agendaless occupation, we jointly concluded as per this evening to ask the occupiers to leave the Artists Space property, so that at least we can get on with our work.”

On a Tumblr blog that appears to belong to the occupiers, the following message was posted this evening:

“Several security individuals from the building have entered the space and are now preparing to evict us. We now see the face of the art ideology as its true form: ex-cops in suits. We are here and are calling for all to come and help prevent the eviction of Manhattan’s first indoor occupied building!”

We have reached out to the group, through their blog, for comment.

Mr. Kalmár said that his board decided to make the move because people who had occupied the space had ventured onto the roof of the building, setting off alarms, and had threatened staff members, issues that he had raised when we spoke to him earlier in the day. He had also learned that occupiers had broken into a storage space and removed a laptop computer.

“I would like to have discussions be continued, in a more structured manner,” he said. “There was a lack of discourse and conversation here.”

A few sleeping bags remain in the space, he said, belonging to people who are believed to have gone down to Zuccotti Park. They will be available tomorrow at 10 a.m., when staff members begin installing the gallery’s next show.

October 23, 7:59 PM: When we visited 38 Greene Street, in SoHo, this afternoon, there was a sticker on the door that read, “NEW SQUAT ON THE BLOCK.” In the lobby an anarchy symbol has been penned in black ink next to a sign for Artists Space, the nonprofit gallery that has been located on the third floor of the building since 1993.

Artists Space is between shows at the moment, but we had come because of chatter on Twitter about an occupation at 38 Greene Street. After asking around, we learned that a group of people, including the Greek artist Georgia Sagri, had taken up residence in the space yesterday. Some spent the night there, along with Artists Space staff, who remained on hand to protect the gallery. Clarification: Staff left at about 5:00 a.m., Mr. Kalmár told us, and returned later in the morning.

The group appears to have a Tumblr blog, called “Take Artists Space,” where it explains its activities and answers questions. “Is this an art project[?]” one post reads. “[T]his is not an art project,” they respond. (They also have a Twitter account.)

Early today, the Tumblr account posted a message that began as follows:

“The newly acquired occupied space in Lower Manhattan, which, unlike Zuccotti Park, provides luxurious bathroom and central heating, has just conducted its first official general assembly…”

At the moment, the details of all of this are hazy because those involved in the occupation have declined to speak with media. Visiting the space this afternoon, we asked a handful of people, including Ms. Sagri, how long they had been in the space, and they declined to answer. “That’s a journalist’s question,” one said. This writer was welcome to participate, as “an individual,” he was told. Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, they have not stated any demands.

There were about a dozen people in the airy loft space. Pink poster board had been posted on one wall that listed “rules” for the space—among them the prohibition of members of the media and police, of photographs and of the “human mic” system that Occupy Wall Street participants use to communicate, echoing speakers as they talk, a few phrases at a time.

Artists Space executive director and curator Stefan Kalmár, who was sitting at a desk in the space along with other staff members, told us that a group of about 10 people had begun distributing fliers during an event at the gallery yesterday afternoon. (The group has posted a video about the action on YouTube.) He showed us the flier. One half read, in tall letters: “TAKE ARTISTS SPACE.” Below it was written: “TAKE WHAT WHICH IS ALREADY YOURS.”

The text on the other half of the sheet reads: “NO MORE: AESTHETIC AUTHORITY / EXCLUSION DUE TO TASTE / NATIONALISM / XENOPHOBIA / HOMOPHOBIA…” and went on to list dozens of other terms like “BORING COCKTAIL PARTIES,” “TEXTE ZUR KUNTS [sic],” “KITTENS,” “SUSHI,” “SHY FEMALE ARTISTS.”

Mr. Kalmár said that he and other Artists Space employees have worked to secure the space since the occupation began. “We have to ensure the safety of our staff and them,” he said, motioning over to the occupiers, “and safeguard our property and the building.”

For now, Mr. Kalmár has not made any effort to remove the occupiers. “I don’t mind the gesture, but I’m surprised by the naiveté,” he said, noting his organization’s history of commitment to political art and art by under-recognized artists. “I feel like our work is far more progressive than what I have heard here.”

During the night, Mr. Kalmár said, about 60 people had participated in a group meeting, or “general assembly,” to use the term of the occupiers. “There were a lot of smart people here saying great things, but they were shouted down.” He has participated in some of the discussions. Meanwhile, he said, at least two homeless people have moved into the space.

“We will be tolerant,” Kalmár said. “It’d be easy to call the cops: they’re trespassing.” He plans to go forward with the installation of the next exhibition at the space, called “Identity,” which looks at the history of museums’ graphic design and branding efforts since the 1960s, and is set to open next Sunday, Oct. 30.

Mr. Kalmár told us that a journalist had asked him if the occupation was some sort of publicity attempt for the new show. He laughed, sounding a little exasperated, and said no. “I don’t know why they don’t occupy the Vuitton store up the street,” he said.

As we went to leave, one of the occupiers told us that they had planned a film screening tonight at 10 p.m. We were welcome in a non-journalistic capacity. The “Take Artists Space” web site mentions the event in a recent post. It reads:

“Tonight at 10pm there will be a screening of two films on squat movement in Hamburg.

“Projections, heat, and tension.

“Don’t miss it and don’t forget to bring alcohol.” [Note: This final line was later deleted from the post.]


Follow Andrew Russeth on Twitter or via RSS. arusseth@observer.com


  1. Guest says:

    The entire group has just been kicked out by private security hired by Artists Space, right before a proposed screening of films on gentrification and squatting in Hamburg.

      1. guest says:

        but look at their website address. this response is listed under “exhibitions”

  2. Guest says:

    A-men. This was a severely misguided gesture.

    Kudos to the AS staff for handling this with patience and professionalism. The gesture was completely off-message. If they wanted to occupy some indoor space they should go occupy Niketown or Starbucks or Walmart.

    The Left is supposed to be a movement of mutual respect. Occupying your friends is not very indicative of that.

    1. Guest says:

      I agree. I was in the audience when I saw them come in. I could already tell that they didn’t understand what Artistspace is about. They are superficial punks who just wanted the attention that their family and girlfriends never gave them.

      Even after the Director Stefan was so kind and bought them pizza, they still reacted so toughly. He trusted them. I was even there when he came over and offered them a contract of rules. All they would have had to do was sign, obey and everything would have been fine.

      I also saw that they wrote all over the walls and floor. They were taking books out of boxes. It is like they just didn’t have any respect for anything. I even heard they stole art works and a computer. Filthy and nasty!

    2. akw says:

      Ah, go leech off of people you don’t like. Never mind that they employ hundreds of thousands of people and they OWN their property, pay for their own insurance, maintenance and taxes.

      I have a better idea: OWS has $500,000.00 in the bank – money that people have GIVEN to them. How about OWS rent a space to “occupy” and pay for their own security and maintenance? Grow up, join the real world. Why should OWS keep sucking off the taxpayers and private property owners when they have half a million dollars in the bank?

  3. Gerry says:

    Might I suggest further occupation here where the battle for the Left drums on…

  4. Informatieren says:

    paper tiger immediately responded by providing an alternative space for discourse and a screening of the film on the “right to the city” movement (hamburg) and fostered a discussion on the world revolution (starting in NYC). Instead, an anarchist version of SPONGE BOB WAS SCREENED!
    *raise your fist on this one, its so cheesey*

  5. Guest says:

    dear gallerist ny:

    but there are many “facts” to “get right”. there is a new text here now too:

    at least these guys tried to do something rather than just exhibiting documentation of change and exploiting ideas of what is/isnt radical (both bloomberg and con edison provide fiscal support for artists space).

    i dont see any thing on this website where the group expresses total solidarity with occupy wall street. i went to a GA there, and while it was messy, which is how this stuff usually begins in the first few hours, it was clear to me that there was some kind of distance between the group and occupy wall street and it was even more clear that there were intensions to create structures and programming for the future.

    this may be the most interesting thing in ny right now. it is on the front page of this website and you have taken the time to read the comments here, right?

    1. GUEST says:

      Georgia Sagri, Alaina Feldman of Independent Curators International, and other ringleaders of this bullshit also receive funding from shady sources, friend. They ARE the artworld. Do you follow???

      1. Guest says:

        wow, so this means that people who work in a particular field are not permitted to challenge it? I know many wall street customer service reps, secretaries, and hr associates that would beg to differ. I hope you have devoted your life to saving starving children or ending AIDS and take no donations from “shady sources” while doing so–as you are ridiculously self-righteous. and of all things, you are ridiculously self righteous about the art world!

      2. GUEST says:

        Of course people are permitted to challenge their own fields, I’m only highlighting the hypocrisy of Artists Space as a target here, when these guys could have easily “occupied” their own work places, exhibitions, studios, etc… Or at the very least renounced their own involvement in an economy they’re just as involved in as Artists Space is.

      3. GUEST says:

        it’s not hypocrisy if you need to keep your job to in order to eat. i mean, thats exactly the issue that needs to be confronted. artists space and ici are totally different types of organizations. i doubt working as an artist or as a curator pays these people very much. what- 15 an hour? they should be commended for actually challenging the “liberal” spaces which are given to them.

        maybe they could have “aimed higher” for guggenheim or moma– but artists space was the most relevant to their lives. and “aiming higher” sounds like some upward mobility jargon my parents would use. 99 % of the art world is total bullshit, everyone knows that. so you slept one night on wall street, congrats, here’s a cookie. now try making a statement actually beyond the kumbaya of #OWS.

    2. Guest says:

      why would you just believe what they write on their tumblr i posted many comments … all not listed there …

  6. [...] occupation. The occupation lasted roughly 28 hours, an account of which exists at Galleristny.As reported by Animal NY, the attempted squat was led by Greek-born performance artist Georgia [...]

  7. Quasimodo 3000 says:

    This “Occupy Museums” joker is like a Republican — either a fraud or a fool. Reminds me of Powhida.

  8. ArtGal says:

    The art world is (currently) inextricable from the wealthy. Deal with it. Occupying Artists Space, of all places, doesn’t address the root of the issue.

  9. [...] members were physically threatened. Artists Space executive director Stefan Kalmár told Gallerist NY that the occupiers had “ventured onto the roof of the building, setting off alarms, and had [...]

  10. [...] announced that the space had been “occupied” by way of a Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube video, they were evicted from the loft-like location at 38 Greene [...]

  11. [...] to taste/nationalism/xenophobia/homophobia…” and went on to list dozens of other terms. http://www.galleristny.com/2011/10/group-occupies-artists-space-in-soho/   Here is the link to Artists Space statement on the occupation and peaceful resolution: [...]