Friday, September 22, 2023

Joseph Beuys Estate Flexes Copyright Muscle

The Joseph Beuys Estate has just won a legal battle keeping the Stiftung Museum Schloss Moyland from exhibiting photographs of a Joseph Beuys performance. Problems between the two parties began last year when the Moyland castle museum showed photographer Manfred Tischer’s photographs of Beuys’s 1964 performance Das Schweigen von Marcel Duchamp wird überbewertete (The Silence Of Marcel Duchamp Is Overrated). Beuys’ widow, Eva Beuys, successfully contested the exhibition, suing under German copyright law in front of a German Court, on the grounds that the documentary images did not respect the original performance.

This recent–and very important–case of artist vs. museum concerning an artist’s property rights against the museum’s freedom of expression rights highlights once again the importance of having art museums and institutions communicate not only with artists, but with legal counsel as well, regarding the present and future intentions of both parties in regard to artistic and institutional intentions. But perhaps what is of major importance is the need to not only have artists articulate their own interests and fears in relation to their art, but also the legal and ethical parameters that must be adhered to by art institutions vis-a-vis an artist’s wishes and desires. What’s disturbing is the persistent belief (by some) that an artist’s intentions should be overridden for the sake of the “public good.” Not unlike a donor’s intent, an artist’s well-intentioned and circumscribed intent should be adhered to, regardless of aesthetic or cultural loss.

The other pertinent problem raised by this case is twofold: the issues raised–under U.S. Copyright Law–with the fixation requirement and, on an international scale, how the German Court’s decision will impact the exhibition of Beuys’ work outside of Germany.

Artforum has a bit on this case here, and The Art Newspaper has an interesting–albeit a bit convoluted–article on it here.


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