Steve Lambert

wrote a book!!!

Yearly Archives: 2015

Agitprop! at Brooklyn Museum

The New York Times Special Edition will be a part of Agitprop! at the Brooklyn Museum. The piece will be displayed December 11, 2015 — August 7, 2016 at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, 4th Floor.

The Brooklyn Museum show description is below.

At key moments in history, artists have reached beyond galleries and museums, using their work as a call to action to create political and social change. For the past hundred years, the term agitprop, a combination of agitation and propaganda, has directly reflected the intent of this work.

Agitprop! connects contemporary art devoted to social change with historic moments in creative activism, highlighting activities that seek to motivate broad and diverse publics. Exploring the complexity, range, and impact of these artistic practices–including photography, film, prints, banners, street actions, songs, digital files, and web platforms–the exhibition expands over its run within a unique and dynamic framework. It opens with works by twenty contemporary artists responding to urgent issues of the day, in dialogue with five historical case studies. In the following months, two more waves of contemporary work are being added–on February 17 and April 6, 2016–with each wave of artists choosing those in the next.

These projects highlight struggles for social justice since the turn of the twentieth century, from women’s suffrage and antilynching campaigns to contemporary demands for human rights, environmental advocacy, and protests against war, mass incarceration, and economic inequality.

The first round of invited artists includes Luis Camnitzer, Chto Delat?, Zhang Dali, Dread Scott, Dyke Action Machine!, Friends of William Blake, Coco Fusco, Futurefarmers, Ganzeer, Gran Fury, Guerrilla Girls, Jenny Holzer, Los Angeles Poverty Department, Yoko Ono, Otabenga Jones & Associates, Martha Rosler, Sahmat Collective, Adejoke Tugbiyele, Cecilia Vicuña and John Dugger, and, in a collaborative work, The Yes Men with Steve Lambert, CODEPINK, May First/People Link, Evil Twin, Improv Everywhere, and Not An Alternative, along with more than thirty writers, fifty advisers, and a thousand volunteer distributors.

Agitprop! is organized by the staff of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Saisha Grayson, Assistant Curator; Catherine J. Morris, Sackler Family Curator; Stephanie Weissberg, Curatorial Assistant; and Jess Wilcox, Programs Coordinator.

Systematic Podcast

I was on episode 151 of Brett Terpstra‘s Systematic Podcast.

I looked forward to talking to Brett because he’s developed a lot of software I use on a daily basis, like NValt and Markdown Service Tools (which I am using right now). Plus he’s brilliant. Little did I know we’d have so many other things in common.

We talked about art, activism, and then went pretty deep into topics like open source router firmware. As I said in the show, there are few people in my life that can keep up with such technical topics. It was a lot of fun.

Steve Lambert talks with Brett about self control (the act and the app), things that work on paper (but not in the real world), and the importance of activism.

Check out the show on the web, your favorite podcast thing, or itunes.

C4AA at Creative Time Summit

The Center for Artistic Activism(Stephen Duncombe and I) will be doing a two-part workshop at the Creative Time Summit on Saturday November 14, 2015.


Artists and activists often focus on immediate problems, only rarely envisioning our desired outcomes. In this two-part workshop, the directors of the Center for Artistic Activism will expand the possibilities of what’s possible and share practical tools for getting there.

More at the Creative Time’s site

No One Wants To Watch a Drum Circle (and something for the letters section of The Sun magazine)

Back in 2011 I wrote a short piece called “No One Wants to Watch a Drum Circle” for the Beautiful Trouble book. That piece was selected to be included in The Sun Magazine in 2014.

After it was published, someone who didn’t like my criticism of drum circles wrote a letter to the editor to complain. The Sun was kind enough to allow me to respond.

(I think I like this exchange of letters more than the original piece.)


Judging Hotel Wars at Flux Factory

On Nov 1 at 4pm I’ll be judging the final round of Hotel Wars at Flux Factory. This round is the Closing Ceremony and the winner will be crowned!

More info:

In the past decade, dozens of independent and brand name hotels have sprung up alongside the Flux Factory building in Long Island City, and more than twenty hotels are set to break ground. The hotel boom, the result of a delayed 2008 rezoning that allowed for rapid new developments in Dutch Kills’ mixed-use industrial areas, has quickly changed our neighborhood into a shifting environment of passing visitors. How can LIC residents, small businesses, and developers constructively and collectively respond to the complex political and social realities of the hotel industry’s rapid growth in a way that takes all stakeholders’ needs seriously?

To playfully respond to these rapid changes and their implications, Flux Factory is posting three teams of highly collaborative artists, game designers, urban theorists, and performers at hotels within a one-block radius of our building for a month-long Olympic-style competition. Each week, teams will receive a prompt that provokes questions about how hotels serve an existing neighborhood, the effects of tourism, and the communities the industry creates and/or displaces. They’ll have seven days to engage with tourists, hotel employees, neighbors, and local business owners and craft their responses using a variety of media. At the end of each week, works will be unveiled at a series of elaborate awards ceremonies, where Long Island City community stakeholders will award 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes. Collaborating hotels are: Home2 Suites Long Island City, Holiday Inn L.I. City — Manhattan View, and Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Queens / Queensboro Bridge.

Join the festivities and help Flux Factory crown the first Long Island City Hotel Wars Champions!

Capitalism at the Station Museum in Houston TX

Capitalism Works For Me! True/False is showing in “Corpocracy” at the Station Museum in Houston Texas through February 14, 2016.

“The Station Museum of Contemporary Art announces the opening of the exhibition, Corpocracy on Saturday, October 10th at 7p.m.; a group exhibition surveying culture jamming, intervention, satire and viral strategies in relation to capitalism and corporate culture through the works of 13 artists. Corpocracy is the absurd reality of our society in which corporations and their interests are allowed to have dominance over the economic and political systems. Through the subversive imagination, the artist works toward a transformation of social consciousness.”

  • Beehive Design Collective
  • Michael D’Antuono
  • Ron English
  • Clark Fox
  • Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung
  • Packard Jennings
  • Steve Lambert
  • Mark Lombardi
  • Eugenio Merino
  • Yoshua Okón
  • Dread Scott
  • Stephanie Syjuco
  • Judi Werthein

Speaking at Humanity in Action NY Conference on Art and Activism

I’ll be giving the opening remarks and doing a workshop with Stephen Duncombe at Humanity in Action’s New York Conference.

When: Saturday, October 17, 2015
Where: The New School, 55 West 13 Street, Second Floor, New York, NY 10011

Inspired by the Humanity in Action International Conference, the New York Conference is a regional gathering for Senior Fellows and friends of Humanity in Action.

This year’s conference will explore the theme of arts and activism addressing social issues in the United States.The event will feature keynotes, workshops and a Senior Fellow reunion dinner. In addition, several Senior Fellow artists will share their creative works which contemplate political and social issues.

“An Artist Reflects on When to Walk Away” Creative Time Reports

See this piece on Creative Time Reports

See this piece on Creative Time Reports

Published on Creative Time Reports

The maker of “Capitalism Works for Me” on corporate philanthropy’s role in the art world, the ethics and compromises of getting paid, and who deserves public scrutiny.

On October 10, 2014, my stomach was in knots. I was at home in Beacon, NY, trying to swallow my lunch while my phone buzzed with calls from television news crews in Michigan. I had been chosen out of 1,512 entrants as a finalist for ArtPrize and stood a one in 20 chance of winning a $200,000 award for my sculpture Capitalism Works for Me! True/False. With this year’s ArtPrize coming up, more artists are hoping to be in a position to win the prize money this fall. But my place as a finalist wasn’t the only reason the media were pursuing me. The night before, I had announced that if I won, I would give away all the money to the Our LGBT Fund of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. That day a quarter of a million people had read the announcement on my website, which spread on social media and was now hitting TV, radio and print news. In a country that had recently appointed a special envoy for LGBT rights and that, though we didn’t realize it at the time, was less than a year away from legalizing gay marriage nationwide, my announcement might not have caused such a sensation were it not for the powerful anti-gay political connections of the family behind the ArtPrize organization.

This is the story of a principled man using his position to work for the good of an underprivileged community instead of benefiting himself. That man is the Michigan billionaire Rick DeVos: renegade entrepreneur, art lover, a man unafraid to challenge the conventional elitist art world of the coasts and Europe. Courageously, DeVos created ArtPrize, a “radically open, independently organized international art competition,” which has transformed and democratized contemporary art by allowing the public to vote to determine the winners of large cash prizes awarded directly to artists. DeVos’ actions have also transformed his hometown of Grand Rapids, MI, the city in which the award is given. By attracting art lovers, artists and critics and invigorating the local economy, ArtPrize has saved the city from becoming, as locals put it, “another Detroit.”

It’s a good story, and it’s told repeatedly. You can read about it on ArtPrize’s website, in its promotional materials, in all the favorable local press or in a self-published $35 hardcover book on its five-year history. But unfortunately DeVos’ celebrated altruism, like that of many wealthy supporters of arts and culture, doesn’t hold up to close examination.

Corporate philanthropy in the United States has come under scrutiny before–notably in 2014, when scientists and environmental agencies signed an open letter urging natural history museums such as the Smithsonian to sever ties with David Koch and other industrialists who have supported right-wing campaigns to deny climate change. This letter was the brainchild of the Natural History Museum, a roving exhibition and educational project by the artist collective Not an Alternative, which has sought to highlight the increasing influence of corporate money not just in politics but also in cultural institutions. In addition to David Koch’s support of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there are many other acts of philanthropy that I believe are worthy of skepticism, including British Petroleum’s support of the Tate museums and Philip Morris’ donations to various cultural institutions. The DeVos family’s support of ArtPrize is a part of this large and ever-growing sphere of questionable relationships between wealthy patrons and the institutions they patronize.

The stories ArtPrize tells about itself leave out some key details. ArtPrize is a pet project started thanks to investments from the wealthy and extensive DeVos family. In 2014 ArtPrize’s revenue was over $4 million, and it very publicly awards a few giant prizes, but the hundreds of artists who mount the citywide exhibition are left to obtain their own insurance and offered limited financial and logistical support. Meanwhile the DeVos family benefits from ArtPrize in a number of ways. In 2011 the Michigan-based news site Mlive reported that tax documents showed that ArtPrize, which gets significant donations from the DeVos family, had spent large sums on contracts with for-profit businesses like Pomegranate Studios, which is owned by the DeVos family. They’re very economically savvy–the family’s business interests in Grand Rapids mean that they are well positioned to benefit from an event that brings in tourism and raises the city’s profile–and the family reaps the benefits of publicity and cultural cachet from being associated with the event as well.

Members of the DeVos family have championed far-right causes, including opposing same-sex marriage and collective bargaining. On the few occasions when ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos has been asked about his relationship to his family’s controversial positions, he demurs. In a GQ article from 2012 he remarked, “I don’t want to even weigh in on any of the political stuff. . . . I just prefer to stay away from that.” This strategy of remaining silent has generally worked. Though Rick DeVos makes plenty of conservative political donations that are part of the public record, nearly all the people I talked to in Grand Rapids, including many journalists, assume that his politics are milder than those of the rest of his family. What a great privilege it must be to benefit from the doubt created by your silence.

Rick DeVos’ silence aside, the political power of the DeVos family is clear. Richard M. DeVos Sr., the patriarch of the family, is co-founder of the multilevel-marketing giant Amway and was named the 60th-richest man in the United States by Forbes in 2012 (placing him in the top .0000001 percent). The family, which has ties to the private military contractor Blackwater, uses its money to work behind the scenes within Michigan and across the country. Each year the DeVoses are among the top donors to conservative campaigns, doling out millions to political parties, candidates and PACs. Unsatisfied with mere financial influence, Dick DeVos, Rick DeVos’ father, spent $35 million on an unsuccessful campaign for governor. In recent years the DeVoses have spent millions to defund public schools with campaigns for school voucher programs. They pushed, financially and politically, for Michigan’s successful anti—collective bargaining right-to-work legislation.

ArtPrize is presented as if it’s a gift, bestowed upon Grand Rapids, the community, and the art world by Rick DeVos and the family. I now see a calculated investment made by a family whose beliefs and actions run counter to those of most artists: homophobic, militaristic, anti-worker, anti—public schools and fundamentally anti-democratic in their methods.

Rick DeVos has proven to be a shrewd manipulator of his own mythology; I admit, however, that I too created a story about myself. In announcing that I would donate my ArtPrize award if I won, I knew that I was leveraging an old myth of the artist as someone concerned not with money but solely with the integrity of his or her artistic vision. My story, like that of Rick DeVos, was crafted for the public in a very specific way. But whereas I find his public persona as a benevolent arts supporter deceptive, I was sincere about my intentions. I took a genuine personal conflict and made it public. This was something that required a lot of soul-searching. For days I sorted through real, personal, moral questions. In the end I decided that I would stay true to my principles, even if it ended up costing me $200,000 at a time when I could definitely use the money. This was much more difficult than I expected–absolutely nerve-racking and nauseating at times. Yet I went public with my intentions because I knew that it could bring the DeVos family’s homophobia and political power into the light.

Immediately following my announcement, people on all sides of the argument began doubting my motivations and questioning the effectiveness of my statements. I came under intense scrutiny. ArtPrize attempted to undermine my credibility by pointing out that the parent organization of the LGBT fund that I intended to donate to had supported it in the past, even though this support came from funds that were unrelated to the support of LGBT causes. People accused me of being a publicity hound, of hoping to bolster myself and my image, of being motivated by a long-term plan for even more financial gain (how this plan would work I still don’t understand). They wanted to know why, if I really wanted to do good, I had chosen to go about it in such a public way. I was called a hypocrite and told that I was being disrespectful of the generosity of the DeVos family. Many just thought that it was stupid to get involved in a competition if I disagreed so strongly with the organizers.

As a figure on the public stage who is also trying to carve out a living, an artist frequently needs to consider the ethics of his or her actions. What I didn’t expect, in the days and weeks following my announcement, was how the artists around me, who were not involved in ArtPrize, would react when imagining themselves in my position. Overcome by doubt, they would look at me with giant, frightened eyes and confess, “Oh wow, I’m not sure I could do that.”

I’ve felt that same natural self-reflection emerge when I see someone step forward and I wonder if I should do the same. Could I do that? Am I doing enough to help others? Where is my paycheck coming from? What compromises have I made? Before long I find myself falling down a rabbit hole of self-doubt: Is Costco really any better than Amazon? I drive a car. Am I working hard enough for justice? Should I get off Facebook and live in the woods? What is the point of my life? What have I really done? When this happens, self-reflection turns into self-destruction.

It must delight the powerful when we turn our scrutiny on artists, art organizations and one another instead of the powerful–especially those who use philanthropy to mask real damage. That doubt-filled scrutiny can be a good impulse when effectively aimed in the direction of people like Rick DeVos, the Koch brothers and other powerful figures with vested interests who support cultural institutions. What answers would they have when asked the same questions: Are you just being a publicity hound, hoping to bolster yourself and your image, motivated by a longer-term plan for even more financial gain? Why, if you really want to do good, have you chosen to go about it in such a public way? Are you a hypocrite, disrespectful of the community you claim to be benefiting? Are you doing enough to help others? Where is your money coming from? What compromises have you made? What is the point of your life? What have you really done?

There are times when it is appropriate to interrogate the motives of artists and art institutions, but these moments occur more rarely than they do in the worlds of commercial industry and politics. We must keep our focus on the larger, more powerful political actors who truly deserve our scrutiny.

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