"Ours is the first cultural epoch in which many men aspire to high achievement in the arts and, in their frustration, form a dispossessed class which cuts across the conventional class lines, making a proletariat of the spirit."
Sergio Munoz-Sarmiento, the author of the analysis of MASS MoCA's legal arguments mentioned here, has deigned to dignify this site with his thoughts on my post. I respond. Briefly, I think he makes a strong point regarding the most important lens through which to view the affair and then touches on what I find to be the really interesting larger question raised by the dispute (a topic that goes beyond it and that I hope to post about when I can.) Reading his remarks, however, I couldn't help but feel that Mr. Munoz-Sarmiento didn't take in the entirety of what I wrote, perhaps in part because he probably hasn't seen all my other posts on the topic and thus didn't fully appreciate the context for this one, perhaps for other reasons. You be the judge.
Reading Ed Winkleman's site today brought to my attention a long analysis of the legal maneuvers ongoing in the MASS Moca/Christoph Büchel fight done by Sergio Munoz-Sarmiento, the Education Director for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. It's an eyeopener on many levels, not least of which that it confirms for me that Skadden Arps are representing the museum, explaining the numerous hits from their ISP to this site ever since I started writing about the affair. Hi folks! Anyway, Munoz-Sarmiento's piece is rather long, and I haven't read it all, but it's safe to say he's not impressed, which shouldn't surprise anyone. MASS MoCA evidently is taking a maximalist approach, responding to virtually all of Büchel's claims with deny, deny, deny, and then throwing a kitchen's sink worth of arguments as an affirmative defense. Some of those I find more intriguing or convincing than Munoz-Sarmiento, which doesn't mean they have legal value. It seems to me at least plausible, for instance, that if the museum paid for the objects in the exhibition, and there was no agreement that ownership should go to Büchel, then MASS MoCA might indeed own the physical things that were installed, the artist's role being in the selection and arrangement of them and not involving actual possession, although copyright would be a different matter. Furthermore, the question of whether they, as presently installed, rise to the status of an artwork has always struck me as an interesting question. We all have learned that a Brillo box that we find on a store shelf is an mundane container of a cleanser, but that another Brillo box installed in a gallery by Andy Warhol and presented for display is a work of art, which is to say, intention and context matter. In this case, does Büchel's intention actually reside in the installation? Part of his very argument is that it does not--the question then becomes, whose fault is it? I'm not saying I'm totally convinced by this, mind you, but it at least is an intriguing idea.
Intriguing, or totally shameless, that is. I don't entirely blame the museum or its lawyers for taking an extreme position--they're entitled to make every attempt to press their cause, and it may be that some of this is bluster, or meant to establish a negotiating position (though we seem far from that.) But it's hard to accept the idea that Büchel's intention was not frustrated here, at least at some level, and while he's perhaps not entirely blameless (a claim MASS MoCA also presses), the museum's arguments taken together have something of the air of the famous definition of chutzpah, in which a man convicted of killing his parents pleads for mercy on the grounds of being an orphan. It's true in some sense that, as the museum notes, installation projects of this kind are in some measure a collaboration between artist and institution, a fact that might be taken to muddy the question of artistic authorship question further. But Büchel wasn't in North Adams for the view, and I very much doubt that the installation was to be credited to both him and the museum as co-creators (works in the same space by Ann Hamilton and Tim Hawkinson, to pick two examples, weren't.) So while I'm not going to blame anyone at this time, I have to agree with Ed that I'm pretty shocked at what I've read. As he wrote,
I can see in each instance how MASS MoCA would make those arguments (logically that is), but I can't for the life of me grasp why
they would. They seem to have lost their grasp of the bigger picture
here. Whatever credibility or funding they hope to recoup via these
arguments, they're putting any future artists they might work with on
notice that they decide when something is the artist's work and when
Precisely. I know they spent $300,000 (or more) only to find themselves, regardless of who's fault it was, with an embarrassment and a closed gallery during tourist season. I can believe that hurt. But if they insist on going down the path they're on, I worry that those will only be the beginning of their losses.
(And: since I didn't link to it when it ran, Ken Johnson's take on the exhibit MASS MoCA does have up, and the larger situation.)
I had totally forgotten about this, but thinking about some comments I made at some blogs recently reminded me that the three-year anniversary of this site had to be coming up. I checked, and whaddya know--it's today. So happy anniversary to MK and its first of 1,138 posts, not including this one, to date. Production has dropped off since that first year, obviously--I know she's a pro, but it's still staggering to think that Lee Rosenbaum has produced only about 200 fewer posts in, what, about half the time--but I continue to hope things will pick up again in the future. I should note that, for the time being, all material will likely be based on books, media coverage, etc., rather than firsthand experience of particular exhibitions. Due to some unfortunate developments (I'm fine, thank you, don't worry), I'm not going to have much time to get out and look at things very much for perhaps a couple of months. As I complained before, right now I don't feel like I'm missing much besides the Cornell, but still, it's a little disappointing.
I'd give you some thoughts on how things have changed since I started doing this, but the most telling fact is that I'm not able to do so--there are now so many blogs covering the visual arts, including a number in New England by paid writers (1, 2, and 3) and arts professionals (for instance), that I can't entirely keep up with it all. Publications both national and international have gotten into it, not to mention individuals with expertise in questions of art law. We're still waiting for things to really take off among academic art historians, but plenty of museums have gotten into it, not to mention scads of artists, interested observers, gallerists, etc. I do my best, mostly, but I can't keep up. So: the state of our art blogging world is strong! Though we still stink, anyway. Oh well.
Or as someone else put it, "Oh la la, ca c'est le freakin' plus grandest Rubber Duckie que j'ai jamais vu!"
Awesome. More images here, at Florentijn Hofman's website. Plus a cool one of it near sunset here. Did I say the art world had no sense of humor? Hofman's an exception (this opinion might not sustain itself in the presence of actual writing about or by him.) Ok, so the Wooster Collective had this the other day and you've all already seen it. But they didn't add value like this, so it's ok:
Somehow [Cornell] floated above eras and fashion. Duchamp was an admirer in
the 1930s; De Kooning was in the 1950s, when the expressionist nature
of Cornell’s work became apparent. In the 1960s Warhol recognized him
as a proto-Pop artist. And everything about him, from his fixation on
childhood to his play with gender to his mix of fantasy and darkness to
his outsider/insider allure, makes sense today.
Cotter goes on to note that Cornell "always preferred to exhibit his art in marginal places: in
schools rather than in a museum like the Modern, which he considered 'pretentious.'" I wonder what he would have thought of PEM, a place that has never lost a certain element of the fanciful or outlandish even as it has grown into one of the leading museums of the region.
So yeah, I've got to get up to Salem to see this one before it closes. It's the only thing I can think of on view this summer that I'm interested in (ok, there's the new British collection at the Clark, too, lucky for them, but that's about it.) Too much safe programming for my taste--and I'm hardly the most adventurous viewer. Philip-Lorca diCorcia at the ICA? Pretty much what you'd expect the ICA to be doing. Hopper at the MFA? I love Hopper as much as the next person, and I'm sure it's a fine show, but god, how boring. When was the last time the MFA did a major exhibition that was exciting, that moved out of their French and American, 1850-1950 rut? And mostly 1850 to 1900, at that. The Davis Museum at Wellsley and the Currier are both closed, RISD's mostly doing permanent collection stuff (which is fine, but I know their holdings inside out), nothing much at Smith (this sounds cool, but it's basically one painting--not something I'm going to drive an hour and a half to see)--you get the picture. Oh well; guess I'll have to put more energy into nitpicking other people's posts for content. Or wait for fall. Other suggestions welcome from the five people still checking this page.