Monday, December 11, 2023

On Urban Renewal, Saatchi, and Reterritorialized Markets

An interesting week for visual culture, law, and community formation as elucidated by digital and real-property mediums. The New York Times reported on December 18, 2006, on Charles Saatchi’s ever-popular “Stuart,” his online website analogous to the now edificed, The day before the New York Times also reported on Houston, Texas’ Project Row Houses, a project initiated and run by Rick Lowe.

While Saatchi’s project raises more legal questions than interesting propositions, Project Row Houses manage to invoke and critique both.

Saatchi’s Stuart database seems well-suited for those interested in blogging and making their work available for others to peruse. However, one wonders what would happen if say, an artist from the U.S. views the work of an artist from say, Hong Kong, and finds it so compelling that the U.S. artist sees fit to copy the work identically and claim it as her own. Not that this is anything new, but making one’s work available online does pose a greater problem than simply exhibiting one’s work at a local gallery, where the influx of viewers, even in Chelsea, New York, is de minimis. Conversely, what if the U.S. artist visits a Hong Kong artist’s studio and copies an art project first viewed there and then posts this project on the Saatchi site? Again, not so new, but the question of lent credibility is surely aroused by the Saatchi page which arguably would be missing from another website.

In this vein, one wonders what legal remedies the Hong Kong artist would be afforded against the net infringer. She can obviously sue the infringer, but the location is a bit more ambiguous: Would the suit be brought in Hong Kong, the UK, or the specific state where the infringer is located? What intellectual property rights does Hong Kong, the UK, and the U.S. afford an artist?

More on point, can the Hong Kong artist sue Saatchi for helping make the infringement possible? Probably not. As explained by the terms and conditions on the Stuart page, Stuart and Saatchi state that they will not be liable for any kind of misuse transpiring through their website, which includes unwanted emails, spam, defamation, or copyright infringement. Even if the Hong Kong artists chose to sue Saatchi, according to the terms and conditions the suit would have to take place in the UK and be governed by UK law. Good luck.

Lastly, an artist using Stuart would be well advised to constantly check the terms and conditions of the site, for the website reserves the right to amend or update their terms and conditions at any time and seemingly without notifying any of their users.

Lowe’s urban renewal project in Houston’s Third Ward is interesting, particularly when read against a recent article on, Ghetto Capitalism, by Patrick Keefe, reviewing Sudhir Venkatesh’s Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, and Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto’s poignant and timely, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else.

Lowe’s, Venkatesh’s and de Soto’s projects propose are a fresh model for artistic nexuses, artistic practices and modes of survival and engagement. This is not to say that a member of this “community” would have to necessarily disavow any and all connection to the established “art market” per se, but that the ability to merge in-and-out of different guises and within and in relation-to differing contexts is a powerful structure which can be shifted, re-modeled, and re-shifted according to one’s acute sense of being.


Venkatesh notes that while “hanging out” in “poor black Chicago neighborhoods,” he was able to observe the clandestine working of pimps, prostitutes, gangbangers, mechanics and preachers, and that these individuals maintained a sophisticated system of order and socio-economic relations mirroring western laws and regulations. This perspective, mixed with his observation that “beneath closed storefronts, burned-out buildings…and empty lots, there is an intricate, fertile web of exchange, tied together by people with tremendous human capital and craftsmanship,” complements what de Soto explained in his book: that seemingly poor and underrepresented communities have their own system of capitalism which many a time surpasses in worth that of legal capitalist markets. However, the difference for de Soto is that he does not see these “black markets” as being commercially viable within a global framework until these markets turn their “dead assets” into liquid capital. In this sense, de Soto remains loyal to a Western legal order and its conservative and empty promises.

Although Lowe’s Project Row Houses remain strictly attached to a legal economic framework, Lowe seems to have figured out a way in which to mine capitalist markets not only to feed his own creativity, but more importantly for the implementation and transformation of a reterritorilizing creative nexus. The facts are inconclusive as to whether the Project Row House nexus has its own de Sotoan or Venkatehsian system of order and function, but if so, this would surely work to their advantage. Beuys may have been right in his edict that every human action is a work of art, but not seeing the Saatchi predicament, he failed to mention the most important part: not every work of art is a human action.



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