Art handlers compete in the static hold event, in which they held framed pieces of lead (at 50 or 60 pounds) against a wall while a “curator” barked orders (Photo: Michael Nagle for The New York Times)

The explosive growth of the art world during the last decade has been fueled by rich new collectors, shiny new galleries and sprawling new museum wings. But the gears and the grease that keep this big machine humming are people who can be generally described with less glamorous adjectives: underpaid, uninsured, overworked and sweaty (not to mention often heavily tattooed, bearded, hung over and painfully burdened by loan payments for their M.F.A. degrees).

These are the art handlers, an often-invisible international underclass of blue-collar workers, most of them aspiring artists trying to pay the bills. But on Sunday afternoon at a bare-bones gallery on the Lower East Side, a group of them finally got a chance to grab a little glory. And even better, they got a raucous public forum in which to mock gallery owners, curators, collectors, critics, fellow artists and just about everyone in the art world, not excluding themselves.

The event, the first-ever Art Handling Olympics — a combination roast, “Jackass”-style stunt extravaganza and excuse to drink a lot — drew about 200 people at its height who came to the Ramiken Crucible gallery to watch a dozen four-man teams (art handlers are, by and large, male, and, by and large, large) go head-to-head, demonstrating their skills with a lot of fake art and untold amounts of Bubble Wrap.


Randy Kennedy
New York Times