For those who have accused me of picking on MASS MoCA (see previous postings), let me say that my problem lies less with the museum than the motivation behind its upcoming "Oh, Canada" exhibition, an exhibition that, at least to my mind, lacks a curatorial rationale deserving of the artists involved.
But for those still unsatisfied, for those who need me to remain an antagonist of this institution (for whatever reason), let me enter into evidence (compliments of the New York Times) a past instance of artist-MASS MoCA relations:
ARTISTS RIGHTS ACT APPLIES IN DISPUTE, COURT RULES
By RANDY KENNEDY
Published: January 28, 2010
A federal appeals court has decided that a lower court erred in 2007 when it ruled in favor of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in a bitter dispute between the museum and the artist Christoph Büchel over an immense, unfinished installation.
The United States Court of Appeals in Boston ruled on Wednesday that a federal district judge should have found that the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 — part of the Copyright Act that protects artists against having their names associated with works “in the event of a distortion, mutilation or other modification of the work” — applies to unfinished works like Mr. Büchel’s.
“Moral rights protect the personality and creative energy that an artist contributes to his or her work,” the ruling by the three-judge panel found. “That convergence between artist and artwork does not await the final brushstroke or the placement of the last element in a complex installation.”
The appeals panel found that the district judge improperly granted the museum summary judgment in parts of the case and that there were “material disputes of fact” that should be decided by a jury about whether the museum distorted Mr. Büchel’s installation by showing it to several people after making changes in it without his approval.
Mr. Büchel has become well known for creating elaborate, politically provocative environments. His conception for the work in Massachusetts, to be called “Training Ground for Democracy,” was that it would mimic and mock the kind of training that is used by the United States military to help soldiers adapt to unfamiliar cultures.
But after work began on the installation in 2006, in a building the size of a football field at the museum’s complex in North Adams, Mass., relations between the artist and the museum degenerated into an angry standoff. Mr. Büchel contended that the museum badly mishandled the project, made decisions about constructing and arranging the work without his approval and did not follow his instructions. The museum argued that he was difficult to work with almost from the start, was absent for a long period of the project’s installation and made many demands and changes to the project as it was being built, causing an initial budget to more than double.
The court of appeals, in its ruling, said that evidence it reviewed “would permit a jury to find that the museum forged ahead with the installation in the first half of 2007 knowing that the continuing construction in Büchel’s absence would frustrate — and likely contradict — Büchel’s artistic vision.”
In 2007 the museum sued Mr. Büchel, and the district court’s decision gave the museum the right to display the unfinished work, but the museum — which was condemned by many art critics for the way it conducted itself in the long-running dispute — decided instead to dismantle it. In its ruling, the court of appeals rejected Mr. Büchel’s claim that merely showing the work in its incomplete state would have constituted a violation of his rights under the artists’ rights act.
Sergio Sarmiento, the associate director of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, which helped represent Mr. Büchel in his appeal, said he was “very, very happy with the decision.”
The museum, in a statement, said: “While we had obviously hoped that this dispute had finally been resolved, should Mr. Büchel decide to proceed further with this case, we are confident that we exercised appropriate curatorial care and diligence in our handling of the work in progress.”
Asked whether Mr. Büchel would pursue the case further, Mr. Sarmiento said, “Our plan is to litigate this to the fullest extent possible.”