Saturday, March 2, 2024

Art law scams, screw-ups, what are art schools good for, and manifestos (Updated)

New seasons of Ozark and Money Heist are back on Netflix. That’s prob the most important and exciting thing to happen since Judd’s wooden boxes (sorry, objects).

Hope you all are hanging in there during these “unprecedented” times (probably the most overused word of the 21st Century). To help you waste time in a somewhat intelligent manner, what follows is a recap of recent art law news.

Let’s start with…Pay.Your.Taxes. All of them. Just ask Christie’s what happens if you “forget” to pay sales tax. Something like $16 million out of your pocket will be the answer. During these times when not too many Benjamins are circulating, might be a good idea to play everything smart and maybe a little “conservative”?

Then there are some art schools, RISD, Yale, Columbia, NYU, that are pretty much telling their students to get lost when it comes to thesis shows, tuition, studios, and seminars. Seems like these schools strongly think their students are still getting the bulk of their education, even if they can’t actually use the welder, computers, or access libraries and studios. But what exactly are these students “getting,” or better yet, what do these students “think” they’re getting in exchange for $50K plus? Might be a good wake-up call to all of these aspiring artists that there are other art schools in the U.S., not to mention the world, where you may actually learn more than how to mis-read Walter Benjamin, re-re-re-read 1960s critical theory, and sit around in a circle jerk piping off about how amazing Judith Butler’s essay from 1984 is. Cynicism and sarcasm aside, seriously, why do people enroll in “art schools” these days? Please do let me know; prove me wrong!

Speaking of art schools, here’s one that looks like they’ve had enough. After 150+ years the San Francisco Art Institute is ready to shut its door. I’m gonna get shit for this, but I think it’s a good idea. I’ve said quite a few times recently that there are too many art schools, artists, art lawyers, advisors, art teachers, art galleries, residencies, museums, foundations, exhibitions and everything art. Add to the mix the fact that many of these are of very little quality and you have the perfect concoction for closures or 2nd and 3rd careers (or law degrees given the number of emails I get from prospective “art lawyers.”).

I mean, let’s be honest, why would any sane individual who just wants to be creative think that spending tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars on an ART degree would be a good idea, especially at this juncture in time? What exactly do these kids think they will learn? What exactly will be taught? And more importantly, who will be doing the teaching? At some point aspiring artists need to decide whether they want to be Charles Bukowski or vacation with the Hausers and Wirths. Seems like just one big circle-jerk.

UPDATE (April 12, 2020, 11:20am CST): I’ve received a few emails asking about my own experience at CalArts. As some of you may know, I attended CalArts for my MFA from 1995 to 1997. Let me be clear: it was the most magical and special time in my life. I would do it again and again without hesitation. The faculty, my peers, the courses, the facilities, the other schools, all were more than I could have hoped for. It’s a libertarian artist’s dream! But CalArts is an art school that although may have bureaucratic snags, faces nowhere near the obstacles Ivy Leagues schools and other prestigious art departments face.

Dave Steiner doesn’t jerk around when he details a very unique perspective on the somewhat recent $6 million 5Poinz decision, where the Second Circuit held that a work is of recognized stature when it is of “high quality, status, or caliber that has been acknowledged as such by a relevant community,” that is, “art historians, art critics, museum curators, gallerists, prominent artists, and other experts.”

First, Steiner’s essay is excellent because it highlights, to a cynic like me, that courts of law basically play with language and the law in order to arrive at the simplistic, redundant and conservative answer that “everything is art” and thus, given art history, “all art is special.” Just look at Judge Parker’s apology for using Monet in a manner that some thought was insulting. Jesus, will someone please grow a pair! Given Parker’s “Monet apology,” I don’t think judges want to get into the “this is recognized art” and “this is not-recognized art” business. “It might be ‘art’ in some eyes, but to us it’s a piece of shit and thus not worthy of moral rights protection.” I can’t imagine any federal judge taking that position in writing. I wish they would, but they won’t. Everyone wants to be thought of as “cultured” and protective of “art” and its sanctity, even federal judges.

Steiner’s question on how the developer/defendant in this case could have rebutted the plaintiff’s argument that 5Pointz was NOT a work of recognized stature is exquisite. How would the defendant’s rebut “recognized stature”? Let me tell you that I cannot find one, not one, person in the art industry that is willing to state that “something” is not art. Good luck defendants.

If you’ve been living under a rock or are so artworld clueless as to have missed the Inigo Philbrick-Kenny Schachter drama, this is the time to catch up. You’ll probably wonder, as does yours truly, how a seasoned art dealer like Schachter got played for a million like a tourist in Times Square. I can’t help but read Schachter’s articles as confessions of his victim hood. After all, these days, everyone’s a victim.

Conversely, Jerry Saltz penned a heart-felt letter to the art world—my art industry—and to be honest he’s much, much, much more optimistic and romantic than I am.

Saltz: “We all want to go the distance for what we love. That distance has begun. Things are bleak, but batons will be and are already being passed to generations who will emerge on the other side of this who will have the brilliant chance to build a whole new art world.”

I’m not sure what universe Saltz inhabits, but it certainly isn’t mine. I do, however, like the somewhat Darwinian aspect that this Coronavirus symptom brings onto the art industry, but heed my words that the art industry, will only get stronger, richer and more exclusive, and with luck we will lose a good 80% of artists, galleries, dealers, art lawyers, and other non-essentials I listed above (by lose I mean they’ll move on to Zoom Pilates start-ups or running for president). The interesting question for me, a die-hard punk-metal romantic, is: What will the other 15% do?

Lastly, and certainly more importantly, here is my art and law manifesto. Enjoy!

-Sergio Munoz Sarmiento


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