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,