Academic journal article Chicago Review

Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition

Article excerpt

Yates McKee, Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition. Brooklyn: Verso, 2016. 296pp. $26.95

The civil war died down but there were still his patients with pains from their phantom limbs. There was still the occasional unrest.

-Cathy Park Hong

"The American Revolution of 1776," Walt Whitman wrote forty years after that war, "was simply a great strike, successful for its immediate object-but whether a real success judged by. ..the long-striking balance of Time, yet remains to be settled." We'll need more than five years to evaluate Occupy's lasting effects, but Yates McKee's Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the PostOccupy Condition helpfully augments the record on Occupy and its influence. With Strike Art, McKee has begun to make the case, if nothing else, that Occupy was, indeed, a great strike-one much larger than the original events surrounding # OccupyWallStreet.

Strike Art will serve as a valuable primary text for future historians. Because McKee himself participated in Occupy, current readers and future writers benefit from his own involvement in, and his own perspectives on, the movement. "I myself have been a participant in many of the proj ects detailed here," McKee notifies readers in his introduction, "which colors my perspective." An inherent quality in participant-observation, this "colored perspective" is something to keep in mind as Strike Art is both history and analysis. As Barry Schwabsky has written in his recent book The Perpetual Guest (2016), "a subjective response from a participant"-like that of McKee's-"would lack the sense of spectatorial distance essential to criticism; and an objective account would not be criticism but reportage." McKee's insider status cannot help but color both his criticism and his reportage.

Having been removed from Occupy central-as I was, and as future historians will be-has its benefits. Though much of Occupy (particularly McKee's Occupy), happened physically in New York and other cities, it was clear to me, from Chicago, that the most active of the Occupy activists were part of the creative class-that is, "students, organizers, artists, writers, designers, programmers, and other 'creative workers'"-people who believed art, whether manifested through images, words, performance, or some combination, can make something happen. Because I saw that the role of artists in Occupy was pivotal, it's hard for me to believe, as McKee writes, that it was "a little known fact." McKee's mistake here, I think, is a result of his insider role in Occupy, and it comes with the territory of writing such a recent history from the front lines. Doing so is a bold undertaking, since most of us have our own memories of Occupy with which we can't help but compare McKee's account.

Where McKee must know better, regardless of his insider status, is when he states that "Occupy involved the emergence of 'the artist as organizer'" Artists and poets have organized numerous and notable movements in the past-examples include but are not limited to F. T. Marinetti in Fascist Italy, Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement in the US, even the "radical art workers of the Paris Commune" that McKee refers to on the next page.

For Occupy, there is no equivalent F. T. Marinetti or Amiri Baraka, no one founder, no charismatic poet-artist-leader, no genius movement architect, no communications mastermind-at least not as identified in the pages of Strike Art. But then who called everyone to Zuccotti Park? And who wrote those memorable words: "We are the 99%"?

Could Occupy truly have been led by the 99%? McKee's answer, I think, would be yes. But he shows instead of tells.

Chronicling the makings of the Occupy movement, McKee shows how nonprofits like Creative Time, artist networks like Art and Revolution, magazines like Tidal, and exhibitions like Democracy in America (2008) made Occupy possible. In McKee's account, Occupy grew out of a particular moment in the established art world, one in which the passive viewer of art was making way for the active participant. …

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