Sunday, September 23, 2007

Art Space News: Will Mass MoCA Display Installation Without Consent?

A part of an installation is hoisted into a warehouse for a Christoph Büchel exhibit-- but is it really a show of his work?

A Federal Court judge has ruled that the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art can display materials assembled for Christoph Büchel's unfinished 'Training Ground for Democracy' installation. U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Ponsor issued his ruling following a hearing on motions filed by both Christoph Büchel and Mass MoCA. In granting Mass MoCA's motion to allow the museum to display the installation, Ponsor also denied Büchel's motion to prevent the piece from being displayed in the museum's football-field size Gallery 5 (one of the largest gallery spaces in the United States). Ponsor's decision was due to the amount of space needed for 'Training Ground for Democracy' to be adequately displayed.

Büchel's design for 'Training Ground for Democracy' was indeed large-- both in size and cost. The installation, which cost the museum over $160,000 to assemble, is based on a mock village used for U.S. military training. Staff members were to obtain the items Büchel needed for his design. His list of required items included a leaflet-bomb carousel, a two-story Cape Cod cottage, an old bar from a tavern, a vintage movie theater and various "banged-up" vehicles. The artist had requested nine full-size shipping containers and had planned to design a re-creation of Saddam Hussein's hiding place-- commonly referred to as the 'spider hole'. However, Büchel's plans were scrapped due to disputes with the museum in January.

By the end of January, well past the scheduled Dec. 16 opening of the exhibit, Büchel departed from the project-- which resulted in several negative exchanges between the artist and museum officials. Büchel claimed that the incident has damaged his reputation and refused to have his name associated with the unfinished project because museum workers had continued to work on the installation without him -- the museum argued that it has a responsibility to deliver a show to the public and that its reputation is on the line as well. Both parties ended up in court over the issue and critics have stated that the ruling, which favored the museum, is a blow to artists’ rights in general.

During the case Büchel accused the museum of un-professionalism and went on to state that the museum had interfered with his work and had wasted his time. The museum claims that Büchel agreed to a $160,000 budget and that the project had cost more than twice that by the time Büchel had left the project. However, Büchel claims that an amount was never agreed upon and that the installation should not carry his name or be displayed in public since he did not oversee its completion. The court ruled that Büchel's work was not protected under the (VARA) law and that the museum can display the installation as long as they mention that it is not complete.

Many artists, art critics, and art advocates have proclaimed that the museums actions are not in the best interest for art as a whole (which conflicts with the museums mission statement). The debate has opened the door for discussions on ethics in the art-world since Büchel is being forced to exhibit work that he does not consider finished or acceptable for public viewing. There is strong concern that this case will allow future works to be shown without consent and that the ruling has created a loop-hole in laws that have been created to protect artists and their work.

In my opinion the financial loss the museum endured was a poor business expense on their part. I don't feel that Christoph Büchel should be punished since there obviously was not a clear contract involved with the work situation. This case has made a villain out of the artist, but I would think that the museum is in the wrong as well since they should have made things more clear. It is crazy to throw that kind of money around without a contract. It appears that the project was flawed from the start.

Büchel conceived 'Training Ground for Democracy' and oversaw the installations construction until his departure in January. The key word is 'departure'-- Büchel left the project! So how can this piece be considered his work? Especially if he does not want his name associated with it? Is it his fault that the museum threw money at him left and right and that they tried to force him into deadlines? The fact that the museum lost thousands over this project does not matter to me... the fact that an artist has been forced to put his name on something that he does not see as finished does! Both sides should have cut their losses and moved on.

I'm not the only one annoyed by this ruling. Many people feel that the museum has broken trust with the artist, the viewing public, and art in general. There are real fears that this case could lead to more troubles for artists and exhibit spaces in the future. What do you think? Was the ruling fair? Should Büchel accept it and move on? Would you be OK with your art being exhibited unfinished? Is this a blow to artists’ rights in general? Do you think Mass MoCA should go on with the show? Discuss.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

ruined his reputation? no doubt he is aware of the media attention and the fact that his name out there, spurring interest and notoriety. his reputation is in tact.

Anonymous said...

anyway, fuck political art.

Anonymous said...

I think both sides messed up big time. This is why people should document everything. I don't fork over any work unless I have a few things signed first. This artist has been around for years he should have known better.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with it being political? If you look at history most art is political either directly or in what it represents by a breakaway from tradition. That statement is almost as ignorant as the way you wrote it. The museum raped the talent of this artist. Anything that comes from it is a bastardized version of what he originally wanted to create. Any press is good press but I highly doubt you would agree with the court decision if it were your art!

jillian said...

"What is wrong with it being political? If you look at history most art is political either directly or in what it represents by a breakaway from tradition. That statement is almost as ignorant as the way you wrote it. The museum raped the talent of this artist. Anything that comes from it is a bastardized version of what he originally wanted to create. Any press is good press but I highly doubt you would agree with the court decision if it were your art!"

simply put, i wouldnt have let it happen because number one, i wouldnt make a political piece. number two, i wouldnt ask for so much, i wouldnt be so in needy in making my art, had i not first had the funds. and number three, were i to be "getting screwed", i probably would be way more lenient in the way i dealt with it and take it as a learning experience.

whats wrong with political art? its a sitting duck approach to politics. most of art in the past was politcal? bo-ring. isnt art supposed to be about the new? if he was so concerned about his political piece he would let it stand as it is and let it say what it has to say about public policies and society. he wouldnt be so concerned about his "public identity" - i.e. reputation - being ruined. just face it, the piece is no longer political and has turned into an ontological piece on humanity and the self, via ideas of fifteen minutes of fame and the "famous for nothing" mantra of hollywood. it is now something totally new and a subtle work of genius.

(ill bypass the sweeping typology of a breakaway from tradition being indirectly politital: by this logic, everything is indirectly political so why make anything that is specifically political)

Peter Klint said...

@Jillian, I couldn't say it better:

"...everything is indirectly political so why make anything that is specifically political?"

Sarah said...

I agree that both sides should have had better documentation. I don't understand why a gallery would show an artist,or why an artist would undertake such a large project without some form of a contract. The gallery lost money, and the artist lost artistic control. If there was a contract in place from the begining none of this would have happened.

With that said, I don't have a problem with the judicial ruling. This guy left the project, had no contract stating that he, and he alone, decides when the piece is finished. It's his own fault that the gallery is going ahead with his abandoned project.

The only reasonable thing he can do now is to let his side become well known, and urge people to not see it. He should protest outside of the gallery, and never list the project on his resume.

Sarah said...

con't

One of the questions was, "Would you be OK with your art being exhibited unfinished?"


What I want to know is, is there a difference between musicians having their previously unreleased music released after their death and the above question? Why wouldn't it be ok to display 'unfinished' artwork if it's ok to release 'unfinished' music?

Anonymous said...

I think this is equal parts Gallery / artist's fault.

For one if the gallery is responsible because they created the situation that led to the fall out... then the artist has to be more responsible for being careful to navigate where his reputation is at stake.

The work probably has at least as much meaning now as it ever would have finished.

Next time I do a sculpture I will provide the gallery with a list of extravagant purchases they need to make to consider the work "complete"