Tuesday, January 25, 2011
In the quiet days before Christmas, a disquieting scene unfolded at Gagosian's West 24th Street gallery, where Anselm Kiefer's show of massive, Holocaust-guilt-invoking vitrines was closing. A protest group called U.S. Boat to Gaza had infiltrated the gallery, peacefully standing by the sculptures in shirts that read "Next Year in Jerusalem" — the show's title — in English, Arabic, and Hebrew, as part of a campaign to oppose the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Employees at the front desk called the police to eject the young demonstrators, a middle-aged bystander spoke out to say they were harmless, and an officer grabbed her, knocked her to the gallery floor, and dragged her screaming in pain out of the gallery by the skin of her arm.
Now, the woman, Ingrid Homberg, is planning to sue both the gallery and the police for "shock, debasement, fright, fear, humiliation, embarrassment, psychological and emotional trauma, physical and mental injury, pain and suffering," according to a statement issued by her lawyer.
The strange incident was first reported by New Yorker writer Claudia Roth Pierpoint, who happened to be in the gallery when it transpired. According to Homberg's lawyer, Joel Berger, his client — "a frail woman who suffers from fibromyalgia, arthritis, and other ailments" — was taken by several of the protesters to a hospital, where nurses photographed her "horrible bruises," described as "deep dark discolorations from the point where she was dragged." Homberg "has been going to mental health professionals" since the incident, he added. "It was a very traumatic experience for her."
Berger, a career civil rights lawyer who has won $7.4 million from New York City in suits relating to police abuses (according to his Web site), told ArtInfo that he plans to file the new lawsuits as soon as the 30-day notice of claim period lapses — unless Gagosian reaches out to settle first. What the legal grounding for a lawsuit is, exactly, remains fuzzy.
Even though it was a single police officer who ousted Homberg, Berger claims that the gallery had a legal obligation after calling the police to "tell the officers what you want and who you want it done to" — in this case, to eject the protesters, not the gallery-goer. "To the extent that there was tortious conduct, the police and Gagosian gallery have 'joint and several liability' — they're both responsible for what happened," he said. As for the three young Gagosian employees who called the police, "they knew perfectly well that [Homberg] was not involved with the protesters, but they stood idly by and let it happen," Berger said.
"It's unclear why the police were called to begin with," he added. "This is Gagosian Gallery, this is not just any mom-and-pop gallery, and you would think there would be a sense of responsibility about calling in the police — especially since they have a large and well-trained security staff of their own. It's not a place where you use police power to solve problems."
Whether Homberg's case will hold up in court, should it make it that far, remains to be seen. A Gagosian representative declined to comment on the threatened lawsuit.