Thursday 30 December 2010

From artist's palette to Snoopy's pellets: art that depends on disregard for copyright

Three paintings, described as "rare examples by the Mexican border-artist formerly known as El Hombre Sin Nombre" ("The man with no name", perhaps a nodding allusion to Clint Eastwood's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly persona?), have been found this year.  They are described as " unlicensed velvet art", "low art" or "border pop".  According to John Bear,
" other medium better captures the zeitgeist of the mid-20th century than unlicensed velvet art, though purists will argue that the it is usually painted on felt board.

Also called “border pop,” the medium espouses a high reverence for the television shows and films that helped shape the culture of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Its blatant disregard for international copyright law can be seen as a metaphor for America hegemony in the world. The medium was dominated by artists living along the United States-Mexico border, imparting it with an insider's love for American popular culture but also the critical eye of someone living on the fringe.

Border pop celebrates bright, pretty images and ease of production—that is, a tendency toward long brushstrokes and stripped-down color schemes. This technique not only allows the artist to get 10 more done before dark, but it has had the surprise effect of rendering the paintings highly resistant to the abuse and neglect they usually endure".
“Snoopy Having a Moment of Humble
 Acceptance and Gratitude
in His Time of Darkness”
By way of example, Bear explains the illustration on the right as follows:
"“Snoopy Having a Moment of Humble Acceptance and Gratitude in His Time of Darkness” eschews the stark political undertones usually present in border pop. Hombre chooses here to present a Snoopy as Christ motif. The muted grays of the lovable pooch’s face at first seem overly simple, but they betray a deep spiritual and philosophical pain. Snoopy gazes upon his dish with eyes that ask, “Should I eat my food pellets now or save them for later?” The bluish aura surrounding him suggests a deeply disturbed psyche. The deep black background represents the uncaring world. It is a masterpiece. Hombre works outside of his comfort zone but produces a work that is as beautiful and poignant now as the day it was created.
Snoopy gazes upon his dish with eyes that ask, “Should I eat my food pellets now or save them for later?"".
Can a case be made for this to be transformational use under US law?  Arguably the transformational context is provided by the caption rather than by specific reference to the underlying work.

Source: "Border Pop: Three lost examples emerge in 2010", by John Bear, posted on Alibi, 30 December 2010

Wednesday 29 December 2010

€10 art

The world’s first stock exchange for art opens in Paris on 3 January 2011.

Art Exchange will sell shares in contemporary works of art for a minimum of €10(£8.50) and provide an electronic marketplace for trading the shares in the same way as stocks and commodities. Art Exchange says it will be completely transparent, with potential investors able to watch the price of shares fluctuate online.

This piece by Sol LeWitt (Irregular Form") is one of the first artists on the Exchange.

There is still the possibility for owning a work of art outright and once an investor has acquired 80% of a work of art, they are automatically given an option to purchase the remaining 20%.

A&F Markets, the company behind Art Exchange claims that it “offers a simple, clear and familiar model through which other economic players can invest in art.” However, many people, particularly in France, are less than keen at the prospect of art being treated in the same way as oil, gas and equities.

Pierre Naquin, the 26 year old behind the exchange, who has been reported as stating that France must overcome its “psychological barrier” to the scheme. He has pointed out that in English speaking countries art is increasingly seen as a financial asset in addition to offering aesthetic pleasure.

The project is starting with six works provided by various Paris galleries and worth at least €100,000 each. The art market has remained relatively steady throughout the financial turbulence, however, like all tradeable property its value can increase and decrease, often quite spectacularly. For instance, one of Jeff Koons’ pieces recently lost €7.5 million in value, it resold at a mere €12 million.

Source: The Times

Friday 24 December 2010

ARR comes in for more treatment

Art & Artifice blogger Simone really started something when she published an article in the Entertainment Law Review on the impact (or lack of it) of the artist's resale right on the UK art market.  The 1709 Blog announced its publication and reproduced its abstract, whereupon it soon attracted this piece from a pair of Australian artists, Anne Sanders and John Walker.  How strange it is that there seems to be more debate, more analysis, more financial projection and more concern about the right after the passage of the EU's harmonisation directive than there ever was before it.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

VAT man makes light of Flavin tube claim to art

Installation art from B&Q, taxable at the same VAT rate as Dan Flavin's works
Writing for The Guardian ("Call that art? No, Dan Flavin's work is just simple light fittings, say EU experts", 20 December 2010), Maev Kennedy reports on a ruling that will delight tax lawyers everywhere, though it may cast clouds of gloom over the art world.  She writes:
"...  When the lights were switched on at a Dan Flavin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London, critics were entranced. "Beautiful," Laura Cumming wrote in the Observer in 2006. "You wonder how it is possible that so much pleasure could emit from such a dismal source: the cold fluorescent tubes of strip lighting."  But the European commission has taken a less poetic view. Brussels has ruled that the work of the American artist, who died in 1996 after half a century of creating pioneering sculpture, should be classified for tax purposes as simple light fixtures. His work, they said, has "the characteristics of lighting fittings … and is therefore to be classified … as wall lighting fittings".

The ruling overturns an earlier UK customs tribunal verdict, and was denounced by one lawyer specialising in arts cases as "extraordinary".

This is no mere academic view. It means Flavin works imported by any museum or gallery from outside the EU are liable to full VAT, which rises to 20% on 1 January [er, not quite, says A&A: the taxman, who is on holiday till 3 January, says the new rate starts on 4 January]. As sculpture the pieces would be subject to only 5% VAT.

The ruling also affects the work of Bill Viola, another American, who became the first living artist to have a major exhibition at the National Gallery in London, and whose video pieces, filmed in extreme slow motion, moved many viewers to tears.

Not the commission, which found: "It is not the installation that constitutes a 'work of art' but the result of the operations (the light effect) carried out by it."

St Paul's cathedral could be among the first victims of the ruling. It has commissioned two altar pieces from Viola, due to be unveiled next year, which could become dramatically more expensive [A&A doesn't think so: St Paul's Cathedral appears to be VAT-registered since it charges VAT on its guided tours.  This being so, it should just offset the extra VAT against the sum it is liable to pay anyway].

... Whether florescent tubes are ultimately ruled rubbish, hardware or the skeletons of magical art remains to be seen.  Meanwhile the ruling should be a great satisfaction to "Barney", one of the few dissenting voices over the Hayward's Dan Flavin exhibition, who posted on "It was like walking around the lighting department of B&Q".

Scrap metal or art?

A collection of stolen art worth millions of pounds which was stolen from a warehouse in Madrid back in September has been recovered.

Spanish police were reportedly tipped off after one of the thieves tried to sell a steel sculpture by Spanish artist Eduardo Chillida worth at least £675,000 to a scrapyard for 30 euros.

The collection, which also included works by Pablo Picasso, Antonio Saura and Fernando Botero belonging to galleries in Madrid, Barcelona and Cologne, was then recovered just a few miles away.

The works had only just returned from being exhibited in Germany when they were stolen in September. Indeed, they were all still stored in the lorry which had been transporting them, which was taken. Accordingly, at the time, it was suspected that the robbery was an inside job.

However, with the attempt to sell the Chillida sculpture for scrap, and the subsequent recovery of all the works within a short distance, it now appears to police that the robbers were merely amateurs who chanced upon a lorry full of valuable art works.

Scrap metal?

Source: BBC 21 December 2010

Monday 20 December 2010

Recovering more Lost Art

Despite this bad news, as we have previously noted here and here, there are a number of other organisations dedicated to locating and returning lost and/or looted art to its rightful owners.

One such organisation is the Commission for Art Recovery, which was established in 1997 to assist efforts to restitute art that was seized, confiscated, or wrongfully taken as a result of the policies of the Third Reich. The Commission deals with governments, museums, and other institutions internationally to encourage and help museums and governments to research, identify and publicise works in their possession that may have been stolen during the years of the Third Reich in order to facilitate the return of these works to their rightful owners.

Another is the Lost Art Database which is run by the Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg - Germany’s central office for the documentation of lost cultural property. This database was set up jointly by the Government and the Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany, and registers cultural objects which as a result of persecution under the Nazi dictatorship and the Second World War were relocated, moved or seized, especially from Jewish owners.

The database is divided into two areas. In one section, it is possible to possible to register cultural objects which were lost by public institutions or private individuals and institutions as a result of Nazi rule and the Second World War, and to request a world-wide search via the Lost Art Internet Database. Conversely, owners or custodians of cultural objects, who are uncertain as to the provenance of those objects can search to determine whether the objects have been sought elsewhere. On the other side, it is also possible to register cultural objects, where it is known that they were taken illegally from their owners or relocated to another place as a result of the war. This part of the database also contains reports on cultural items with an uncertain or incomplete provenance, which suggests the possibility of illegal dispossession or a removal and relocation due to the war. Institutions and individuals who have suffered such a loss can then search whether the cultural objects they are looking for are contained in the list of found objects.

It is reported that with the use of this database, among other things, the reclamation of works lost during the Second World War has recently increased. Indeed, the Berlin State Museums reports that they have recovered more works in the past decade than in the previous several decades.

This is reflected in a current exhibition in Berlin's Alte Nationalgalerie entitled “Loss and Return”, which documents Berlin's most recent attempts to recover works lost during World War II, and which displays a number of works which were lost but have been recovered. One such work is August Wilhelm Ahlborn's "View of Florence" which disappeared during the war after it was loaned by Berlin's National Gallery to the Nazis in 1934 to decorate the Reich Chancellery. This painting, which for decades was thought to be lost for good, appeared out of nowhere in 2009 when a Berlin auction house offered it for sale.

Such stories inspire hope that other artworks, which have been given up as lost or destroyed, or which were sold without the artists' knowledge and promptly disappeared, remain to be discovered and reclaimed by their rightful owners

Source: The Wall Street Journal, 17 December 2010

Grosz v MoMA

More bad news for those seeking to reclaim ownership of a number of artworks which were sold in dubious circumstances during the Second World War.

On 16 December 2010, the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit confirmed the decision of the South District Court of New York that the claim was time-barred.The case related to three works of German artist Georg Grosz, which were confiscated by the Nazis, and, by various routes, eventually ended up in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA).

>> Poet Max Hermann-Neisse with Cognac << >> Self-Portrait with Model <<

>> Republican Automatons <<

Grosz heirs brought the claim against MoMA following several years of unsuccessful negotiations between the parties. However, the claim was only filed more than three years after the Director of MoMA had sent a letter to Grosz's heir saying that the Museum had voted not to relinquish the art. Accordingly, as it was also decided in the case of Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Kokoschka painting, the Court held that the action should be dismissed as it fell outside the Statute of Limitations.

See here for the decision of the Court of Appeals.

See here for the decision of the District Court.

Banksy supports Russian art revolt

From one controversial artist to another – news that Banksy is to donate the proceeds from the sales of his “Choose Your Weapon” prints to support the Russian art collective “Voina,” a radical Russian performance group known for their provocative and politically charged works of performance art.

A performance in September, known as “Palace Revolution”, which involved a team of 31 activists overturning police cars in St. Petersburg, has led to the arrest of two of Voina's members. The two are now are now awaiting trial, charged with "hooliganism, carried out on motives of political or ideological hatred or animosity towards a social group," and facing a prison sentence.

It remains to be seen whether Banksy's aid assists his fellow artists in freeing the two member of the collective.

Palace Revolution

Source: BBC 13 December 2010

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Blasphemy or religious art? Wojnarowicz revisited

"Wojnarowicz’s Ant-Covered Jesus: Blasphemy or Religious Art?" is the title of an essay by S. Brent Plate, posted here on Religion Dispatches.  It deals with, among other things, the controversy over a work (or works, depending on how you count them) by the late American artist David Wojnarowicz, A Fire in My Belly, which portrayed Jesus covered in ants.  Plate explains that the artist
"... entered the “Culture Wars” in 1989 when the National Endowment for the Arts rescinded funding for a catalog and an exhibition on the topic of AIDS. Wojnarowicz had contributed an essay that attacked several public figures for supporting policies he believed helped the spread of AIDS. The controversy at this time, along with other right-wing criticisms (Senator Jesse Helms led the way) against the artists Andres Serrano, Karen Finley, and Robert Mapplethorpe, brought Wojnarowicz into national media attention beyond the art world.

The following year, Wojnarowicz went on the offensive, and filed a $5 million suit against Donald Wildmon, Methodist Minister and founder of the American Family Association, after the AFA mailed tens of thousands of pamphlets that spoke against the homoerotic themes of Wojnarowicz’s work and included many details from the artist’s photo collages. The suit also included charges of copyright infringement for reproducing imagery without permission. The AFA was ordered to cease all distribution and to publish and distribute a correction. Wojnarowicz was awarded a token $1 for damages. Many saw this as a victory for Wojnarowicz, as no one had taken on such a legal battle before".
The court's ruling in Wojnarowicz v American Family Association and Wildmon can be read in full here.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Tate my Tree

Tate Britain’s Christmas tree has become a staple of the art calendar for many years (see here for the photographic archive). The trees have ranged from the traditional, to the invisible and the unorthodox and now we have the natural.

This year’s tree is an unadorned spruce with an intriguing bull whip wrapped around its base along with several silver flyers. It looks like almost no effort has gone into the creation – precisely the intention says Giorgio Sadotti, the artist:
"If someone says, 'Your work's a bit easy,' then for me that's the perfect compliment. I want something to look like it was no effort because I lose interest if something looks like it was a lot of work."
The tree/art work is entitled Flower Ssnake and the silver flyers at the tree's base are invites to a live action performance on twelfth night, when the tree will be "completed” with the assistance of a woman described by Sadotti as "Fanny from Marseilles".

A quick glance through the Tate’s previous Christmas trees leads one to ponder the definition of art and whether it is more a part of out daily lives than is, perhaps, appreciated. Indeed, as part of the 2010 seasonal festivities many people will have a work of art (natural or artificial, green or otherwise) in the corner of the room; whether it is treated as a work of art is another question.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Art Swap

Despite the recent reports of Italian culture literally crumbling to pieces, they may have found a solution for both maintaining and spreading the influence of their less fragile art forms. The Italian and Chinese governments have teamed up in a five-year, renewable deal. The Chinese government are to operate an exhibition space at Rome's Palazzo di Venezia, while the Italians will operate a space in a wing of the National Museum of China in Beijing.

The culture trade is part of a gradual but steady move by China to establish itself at the centre of the art scene. When questioned about the deal, Mario Resca, the Italian director general of museums and cultural sites, went so far as to state that:
"In the next 100 years, this address [the Italian art site on TiananmenSquare] will be the most important in the world, not Fifth Avenue in New York, not London, but Beijing."
The first show in China's new Rome space is already on view. "The Two Empires: The Eagle and the Dragon," displays 450 similar yet contrasting artifacts comparing the art and culture of the Roman Empire with the contemporaneous Qui and Han dynasties (200 BC-200 AD).

Source: Art Info

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Sound recording wins Turner art prize

This week Glaswegian Susan Philipsz became the first sound artist to win Britain's Turner Prize on Monday. The prize-winning entry is Lowlands, a recording of Phillipsz singing three versions of a traditional Scottish folk song.  Could this be the first example of a prize-winning art entry being subject to protection as a sound recording and not as an artistic work under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.  The question is not without significance since, while both musical and artistic works are protected as original authors' works, sound recordings are protected by 'neighbouring' rights, have a shorter term of protection and are affected by different exceptions to copyright protection.  The singer also enjoys a performer's right.

Friday 3 December 2010

The rights of (snow)man

Snow is not the most stable of artistic materials and even if it survives a thaw, there is always the risk that it may get stolen

There’s been a lot of commentary recently about the stolen snowman of Kent. Most of this commentary has criticised/ridiculed the woman for reporting such a trivial event. However, little thought has been given to the rights which were stolen along with the snow, pound coins (eyes) and teaspoons (arms) which constituted the snowman in question. Was there a more sinister force at work? Why was the snowman taken in its entirety, rather than just the coins and teaspoons, were the thieves in fact after the snowman as a sculpture?

For it was not just the snowman that was stolen but also the potential to exploit the artistic and moral rights in the snowman. Despite the apparent lack of originality, the snowman may well have attracted copyright protection as a sculpture. As it is an artistic work, there is no requirement for recording in order for copyright to protect the work.

The creator does not appear to have exercised her right to object to derogatory treatment of the work and in most reports she has not even been identified as the sculptor. Although there is little that can be achieved in such circumstances

Some doubters have suggested that the snowman melted. But the evidence refutes such a simple explanation. The phone call clearly demonstrates that there was still ice on the road and no suggestion of a thaw. Further the call clearly indicated that someone had stolen the snowman in its entirety rather than simply the pound coins and teaspoons which were arguably the elements of the snowman with the greatest short term resale value.

As the caller commented:
"It ain't a nice road but you don't expect someone to nick your snowman."
Sadly, the police did not take the case seriously at the time and as the snow has mostly melted the trail of the snowman (and most probably the snowman itself) has gone cold. This is one art theft that is destined to remain a mystery.