Tuesday, December 5, 2023

“I think it’s still art and still belongs to Buchel” —MASS MoCA Curator

Robert Storr’s following statement is the missile that eviscerates MASS MoCA’s bark:


“In my view, under no circumstance should a work of art be shown to the public until the artist has determined that it is finished. Speaking as someone who has commissioned or sponsored many comparable artistic projects, I strongly maintain that public institutions that act as sponsors for art projects should only do so with the full knowledge that those projects may not meet their expectations, and, in the end, may even prove unfeasible. No matter how much money may be spent on the creating of a work by an institution on behalf of their public, such sponsorship belongs to the category of patronage and does not buy that institution or its public any degree of ownership of or any proprietary right over the project much less any decision-making authority with respect its readiness for public presentation.” (Robert Storr Affidavit, see from p. 14, Büchel Summary Judgment Brief)



When did all this happen?


On Friday, August 31, 2007, MASS MoCA’s and Christoph Büchel’s attorneys met in Massachusetts to submit their summary judgment motions. (For Büchel’s Summary Judgment motion, click here. For MASS MoCA’s Summary Judgment motion, here.)

In the most recent battle between MASS MoCA and Christoph Büchel, Büchel’s attorney, Donn Zaretsky, summarized the issue best:


“This case presents questions of considerable significance in the art world: Does someone other than the visual artist have the right to decide when that artist’s work is finished or otherwise in a state suitable to be shown to the public? Can an institution modify a visual artist’s unfinished work without that artist’s consent?”




According to MASS MoCA and its director, Joe Thompson, the answer is definitively “yes”! Zaretsky and Büchel counters this absurd and appalling claim by correctly reminding Thompson and his Museum that unless there is a legally binding written waiver of his Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), the Museum is precluded from exhibiting Büchel’s artwork without his permission.

Büchel and his attorney’s assert that although his installation is currently an unfinished work of art, it nonetheless covets protection from the Museums illegal display and presentation under Section 101 of the U.S. Copyright Act. Büchel and his attorney’s are absolutely right in making this legal assertion.



Although Joe Thompson himself has stated that it is an artist that dictates when something is or isn’t art, and that Büchel’s Training Ground for Democracy is “the best unfinished work of art of the century,” that it is “deeply moving,” “a phenomenon,” and “the Guernica of our time,” MASS MoCA continues with their “fuck you” attitude. They continue to argue that they are not presenting and exhibiting Buchel’s unfinished artwork without his permission by covering “the Materials with tarps and other measured designed to obstruct public view of and access to the Materials.”

Unfortunately, MASS MoCA’s contention is an absolute lie. On August 24th, 2007, CLANCCO toured MASS MoCA’s Building #5 and was able—with very little visual obstruction—to view Buchel’s artwork. Although there was very little security on site that day, not much security is needed, as the 48” tarps cover very little of Buchel’s installation. The pictures in this article clearly show that the tarp coverings serve not to occult Büchel’s unfinished work of art, but rather to evoke and provoke a voyeuristic desire on the part of the touring audience. As if this was not enough, the Museum violently and intentionally disregarded Büchel’s instructions by continuing to “install” Büchel’s work, without his participation, for four months after their ceased communication.



In fact, MASS MoCA’s current exhibit, Made at MASS MoCA, –which the Museum argues was not a personal attack on Buchel– could have been installed in a location within the Museum where viewers are not forced to confront the Buchel installation, counter to the Museum’s argument that Made at MASS MoCA can only be accessed by walking through the Buchel installation.



This type of gross deviance from an artist’s instructions or wishes should shock the conscience of any contemporary artist. That curators and directors welcome any opportunity to play artist is a current psychological artworld manifestation. However, that curators, directors, and Museum’s suffer from aesthetic castration complexes and therefore take an artists ideas, work, and materials and intentionally and willfully modify and distort it in order to satisfy their own grandiose desires is appalling and devastating at best.


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Comments: 1

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  • What are you talking about? The abandoned Buchel work-in-progress is not being displayed. There is no viewing of it; tarps obstruct any hope for a glimpse. I agree with the museum’s choice to allow passage through the space. Made at Mass MoCA works because it sits next to the large space, a space that has been essential to the full Mass MoCA experience in the past. It is a shame that the main gallery space has been taken from the public because of litigation. I am grateful that Mass MoCA does have a display of its successful past installations in the gallery adjacent to the unfinished Buchel piece. It serves as a reminder of Mass MoCA’s unrivaled status as a venue for the truly extraordinary in a contemporaty art world whose curating choices are too often driven by insider cronyism

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