"We call for all artists in the U.S. to put down their tools and cease to make, distribute, sell, exhibit or discuss their work from January 1, 1990 to January 1, 1993. We call for all galleries, museums, agencies, alternative spaces, periodicals, theaters, art schools etc., to cease all operations for the same period. Art is conceptually defined by a self-perpetuating elite and is marketed as an international commodity; the activity of its production has been mystified and co-opted; its practitioners have become manipulable and marginalized through self-identification with the term “artist” and all it implies."
So begins the inaugural issue of YAWN, “organ in support of the Art Strike 1990-1993,” dated September 15, 1989.
The proposed early-’90s Art Strike is an interesting and largely forgotten footnote in contemporary art history. I encountered it for the first time while doing some research with back issues of Artpaper, the paper of record for the 1980s and ’90s art scene in Minneapolis-St. Paul. A full-page ad reproduced the text of YAWN’s inaugural broadsheet, and listed various resources one could write to learn more. Two “Action Committees” — one in London, one in San Francisco — were listed, as well as YAWN’s mailing address in Iowa City, Iowa.
It all makes for some highly entertaining and provocative reading. To that end, the entire run of YAWN is available here. Clear your calendar for the morning, put on a fresh cup of coffee and dive in.
Minnesota bonus: A hilarious letter from a Duluth resident appears in the January 1, 1990 issue, taking the entire concept to task:
an art strike wont change the course of events— it wont seal the hole in the ozone layer (if you want to attempt to aid that, stop driving yr cars & bury the fridge out back & turn off the air-conditioning…), it wont stop the war between the banks & the mafia in central america, it wont stop greed, hatred, selfishness, abandonment of children to cruel governmental systematic crushing, it wont do any of that or anything at all, except stop itself— & i’ll miss great pieces like the ollie north full metal jerkoff piece & lipface marilyn monroe & etc. i urge you all to just stop taking yrselves so seriously & CREATE… imagine, discuss, describe for those millions out there who have for whatever reasons lost their ability to do this— these are the fucking DARK NEW AGES— dont stop carrying the light of the true universe— persevere— fuck the outcome— fuck the system— who cares?
To which YAWN replies…
By focusing on “big business,” “underground culture,” “the ozone,” and other pop culture buzz words, you’ve neatly avoided the broader issues raises by the Art Strike. Instead you’ve focused on trying to make the Art Strike look stupid. Well, Art Strike is a bad idea, but it is not, in fact, a stupid one. It raises some real issues that can yield practical benefits if honestly confronted.
Oustanding. Any of our North Shore readers want to confess to penning this letter?