NEW YORK — The Red Dot Art Fair has been officially cancelled three days before it was set to open in the wake of mounting protests by local unions. The fair's venue, 82Mercer, located in SoHo, made the decision to cancel the fair in response to organizers' decision not to use union labor. "The venue said they couldn't afford to have a strike," George Billis, director of Red Dot, told ARTINFO. "They demanded that all the labor used for the show be union, and that's just not feasible — it's crazy."
Billis said the venue contacted him with its final decision to cancel the show on Monday evening at 5 p.m. He sent out an e-mail to exhibitors this morning explaining that he had to close the show "due to union issues," and said all exhibitor fees would be refunded. Red Dot, traditionally aligned with Armory Week, had moved its dates this year to coincide with Frieze Art Fair and was to run from May 3 to May 6. The company also runs an annual fair in Miami.
The tension between union representatives and Red Dot came to a head last night, according to Rozalia Jovanovic, when union workers blocked employees of the fair from entering the site at 82Mercer. But 82Mercer had been in discussions with Red Dot for over a month about using union labor, according to Vincent Fung, a partner at the venue. Representatives from the Teamsters and the Carpenter's Union contacted Fung and his partners in February inquiring about whether Red Dot would be using non-union labor, and Sung brought his concerns to Red Dot shortly thereafter, he said.
Fung suggested that because Red Dot's exhibitor list shrunk at the last minute and the fair had delayed direct negotiations with the unions, Billis wasn't able to afford organized labor, despite 82Mercer's repeated requests that he begin collaborating with the unions early. (The most recent exhibitor list posted on Red Dot’s Web site lists 27 exhibitors, compared to 50 in 2011.)
"We have a clause in our contract saying the client has to hire the correct labor so there are no pickets or strikes," Fung told ARTINFO. Though Red Dot exhibited at 82Mercer last year without union labor, Fung said the venue has become more strict since becoming the target of two protests last year against clients who also did not use union labor. "We weren't going to take a risk and have a strike outside our venue," he said. "It is a huge and very stressful ordeal for our business."
Red Dot isn't the only art fair being targeted by unions this week. The Carpenter's Union has stated that it plans to demonstrate against Frieze for its decision not to use union labor as well. A call to that union about the developments at Red Dot went unreturned.
"I think that because they are picketing at Frieze they are targeting all of us," said Billis.