Monday, May 29, 2023

Are Art Lawyers the Monsters of the Artworld?


Sam Keller, director of Basel’s Fondation Beyeler, thinks so.

“Not surprisingly, the involvement of lawyers does not always make collaborations easier. In some cases it poisons relationships.”

This may sound a bit odd, ironic, or even hypocritical coming from me, a practicing art lawyer, but I too wonder at times if lawyers screw things up more than help things out. I’ve come to the conclusion that it all depends on the situation (yes, very lawyerly of me). When there seems to be little conflict (or a small chance of conflict), corporate-trained lawyers can certainly muck things up and over-complicate matters.

Many times lawyers will be overly-aggressive simply because, well, they can be (they’re being paid for it so why the hell not). I often wonder if the over-aggressiveness on the part of some lawyers compensates for some kind of playground bullying they must have encountered as little kids (and this goes for both men and women). Corporate-trained lawyers tend to think that everything below the sun functions and should function like a Forbes 500 corporation. And this includes art. One thing is clear. When lawyers focus too much on the “to include but not limited to” part of the agreement instead of thinking creatively about how to make art happen, nothing happens. Paintings and sculptures aren’t made, commissions are declined, and negotiations cease, all because some lawyers wanted to practice a little CYA (aka – cover your ass).

However, during times of conflict, I do believe that it is rare when human beings figure things out without the aid of lawyers. It is unfortunate, but like it or not, that’s the way it is. Or, as David Mamet once said, “the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.”


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