Monday, September 24, 2007

Christoph Büchel vs Mass MoCA

Last Friday Swiss artist Christoph Büchel lost his legal battle to prevent the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art from exhibiting the incomplete version of his work "Training Ground for Democracy." The Mass MoCa agreed to the ambitious project only to later balk at costs associated with some of the planned installations (including, apparently, more than $100,000 in burned-out airline fuselage). Having invested significantly in the exhibit, the museum fought to present the incomplete project to the public without the consent of the artist. Büchel claimed that to do so would misrepresent his work and violate the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which provides that an artist has the right to “prevent the use of his or her name as the author of the work of visual art in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work.” Federal judge Michael A. Ponsor ruled that the presentation did not violate the act, which is without a provision to prohibit showing an unfinished work of art.

The large scale project sought to mimic and mock US military training method and was reported to have included a recreation of Saddam Hussein's spider-hole. The artist claimed that the museum mismanaged funds and the museum maintain that the artist was difficult to work with and demanded changes that caused the initial budget of $160 000 to almost double.

The artist also argued that the museum did his reputation damage by allowing the public access to the incomplete work earlier in the year, half-covered in tarpaulins. When the original exhibition date got pushed back the museum hastily assembled a show of documentary photographs titled "Made At Mass MoCA", which was widely panned as a self-serving attempt to illustrate the gallery's good relationship with other artists they had worked with, such as Ann Hamilton, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz West and Tim Hawkinson. In the press release for the show, the institution spitefully noted:

"Due to the space constraints imposed by "Training Ground for Democracy", the exhibition "Made at MASS MoCA" is being presented at MASS MoCA's only remaining gallery space."

To get to "Made At Mass MoCA", visitors had to walk thru the half-installed "Training Ground."

One of the most famous legal conflicts between artist and commissioner took place in 1989, when Richard Serra's site-specific work "Tilted Arc" was secretly removed in the middle of the night because its opponents said that it encouraged vagrancy, frightened office workers and disturbed the line of sight in New York's Federal Plaza.

Toronto's Michael Snow famously sued the Toronto Eaton Centre who adorned his "Flight Stop" Geese with red ribbons for the 1981 Christmas season. Snow objected and sought an injunction to have the ribbons removed. He had argued that the ribbons distorted his work, and won. Years later Ted Rogers decided he wanted to move Snow's "Red, Orange and Green" sculpture from the Confederation Life building that he had just purchased. Snow objected and the cable mogul simply had the site-specific piece moved.

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