Art Workers' Coalition
The Art Workers' Coalition (AWC) was an open coalition of artists, filmmakers, writers, critics, and museum staff that formed in New York City in January 1969. Its principal aim was to pressure the city's museums – notably the Museum of Modern Art – into implementing economic and political reforms. These included a more open and less exclusive exhibition policy concerning the artists they exhibited and promoted: the absence of women artists and artists of color was a principal issue of contention. The coalition successfully pressured the MoMA and other museums into implementing a free admission day that still exists in certain museums to this day. It also pressured and picketed museums into taking a moral stance on the Vietnam War which resulted in its famous My Lai poster And babies, one of the most important works of political art of the early 1970s. The poster was displayed during demonstrations in front of Pablo Picasso′s Guernica at the MoMA in 1970.
The AWC grew out of an incident at MoMA during the exhibition curated by Pontus Hulten, The Machine at the End of the Mechanical Age: on January 3, 1969, Greek kinetic sculptor Vassilakis Takis, with the support of friends, physically removed his work from the exhibition. Although the work, Tele-sculpture (1960), had been purchased by the MoMA in 1963 and thus belonged to its permanent collection, Takis was unhappy with the museum's lack of consultation in choosing a work for exhibition which he considered no longer adequately represented his current artistic practice. The artist took his work into the museum's sculpture garden and remained there until he received confirmation from museum officials that his work would be withdrawn from the exhibition. The incident led to a series of meetings held at the Chelsea Hotel in which the group that had supported Takis's action discussed issues relating to the political and social responsibility of the art community. The group included Takis, American kinetic sculptor Wen-Ying Tsai, German conceptual artist Hans Haacke, American writer and independent curator Willoughby Sharp, co-founder of Avalanche Liza Bear, American artist and Village Voice art critic John Perreault, and American minimalist artist Carl Andre.
The AWC emerged from these initial meetings when the MoMA's director Bates Lowry refused the initial group's demand to hold a public forum titled "The Museum's Relationship to Artists and Society." After organizing a number of demonstrations in front of the museum, the group held an open hearing at the New York School of Visual Arts on 10 April 1969. The event was retitled "What Should Be the Program of The Art Workers Regarding Museum Reform, and to Establish the Program of the Art Workers' Coalition." Some three hundred artists and members of the New York art community attended the hearing. The initial demands that had been made to the MoMA were debated within the larger group that formed during the open hearing, and later refined and addressed to all New York Museums. Artists and critics subsequently debated various subjects of contention including artists' rights, museum policy and broader political issues including the Vietnam War. On 15 October 1969, the AWC organized a successful "Moratorium of Art to End the War in Vietnam." The MoMA, the Whitney Museum, the Jewish Museum and a large number of commercial art galleries closed for the day. The Metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim Museum did not comply, although, under pressure from the AWC, the Metropolitan did postpone the opening of its American painting and sculpture show scheduled for that day, while the Guggenheim was picketed. The coalition's activities eventually led to changes in how museums interact with artists, a contribution to the art world that is considered lasting in spite of the coalition's short three-year existence. The AWC ceased its activities at the end of 1971.
Notable former members
- Lippard, Lucy (November 1970). "The Art Workers Coalition: Not a History" (PDF). Studio International.
- Bryan-Wilson, Julia (2009). Art Workers, Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era (PDF). Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Lippard, Lucy (1973). Idea Art: A Critical Anthology. Dutton. p. 102. ISBN 0-525-47344-0.
- Ault, Julie (2002). Alternative Art New York: 1965-1985. University of Minnesota Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-8166-3794-6.
- Art Workers Coalition 'Open Hearing' and 'Documents' online
- Francis Frascina, "Meyer Schapiro's Choice: My Lai, Guernica, MoMA and the Art Left, 1969-70", Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 30, No. 3. (Jul., 1995), pp. 481–511 and Vol. 30 No. 4 (Oct., 1995), pp. 705–728.
- Julia Bryan-Wilson, Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era, (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2009).
- Alan W. Moore, “Artists’ Collectives: Focus on New York, 1975–2000,” in Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945, ed. Blake Stimson and Greg Sholette (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 192–221.
- Kirsten Forkert, "The Art Workers Coalition (revisited): a call to participate", Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, 5.
- Sonia S. Braga, "Art Workers Coalition", Anima e Terra, No.1, April, 2012, pp. 246–274 (Italian).