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.

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.]