Saturday, December 20, 2014

What Responsibility Does a City Have to Its Public Art?

Tempest, as originally installed by artist, Brian Tolle, at the Bass Museum of Art, 2010.

Let’s start off with the following: if a city commissions a public art project from an artist, at the cost, excuse me, at the tax-payer cost of more than $400,000, then I believe we can safely say that the responsibility the city owes to its property is pretty obvious. More so, the responsibility it has to its tax-base is even greater. But, perhaps both are inseparable.

It’s just come to our attention that the City of Miami Beach has, without the artist’s consent, taken it upon themselves to remove a public sculpture, Tempest, installed in Collins Park (at the Bass Museum of Art) in 2010 by artist Brian Tolle. But why?

According to Tolle (via The Art Newspaper), the City of Miami Beach failed to maintain the art work, allowing it to be vandalized and used as a “toilet.” Why the City would allow this to happen to a work of art is beyond comprehension, but even more alarming is the fact that this is a $400,000+ work of art. As Tolle’s attorney, Donn Zaretsky notes, “the city is responsible for maintaining the [art] work.” We agree.

Take a look at the image of Tolle’s sculpture. Note the materials and installation. It doesn’t appear to us that this sculptural art work could be safely removed without suffering any damage. This is key because if it was (and is) damaged, can you say, moral rights violation? Remember that in the U.S., under the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act, a visual artist has — among other rights — the right to prevent the use of one’s name on any work that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be prejudicial to the artist’s honor or reputation, and s/he also has the right to prevent any distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the artist’s honor or reputation.

Did the City not seek out recommendations for the care and maintenance of Tolle’s art work? Did City officials really think that removing (and possibly damaging or destroying) Tolle’s art work without Tolle’s consent would be cheaper than cleaning and maintaining the art work? In essence what we’re asking is, did the City just think that it could do as it pleased with a legally protected work of art, and with complete disregard to the artist’s wishes?

If this sounds familiar, our readers may remember the Mass MoCA v. Christoph Büchel lawsuit fiasco, brought to you, the taxpayer, by gross institutional incompetence and arrogance. And let’s not forget how that institutional tragedy also damaged the museum’s reputation in the eyes of many artists, curators, critics, and donors. One can only hope the same is not levied on the Bass Museum of Art or the City of Miami Beach.

It appears that post-removal, Tempest is somewhere in the vicinity of Miami Beach, but no confirmation on this as of yet. We will have more as this story develops.


Quote of the Day

“Support for the arts — merde! A government-supported artist is an incompetent whore!” – Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land


Penalty, A Film About Government Sanctioned Killing

If you’re interested in the history and politics of the death penalty, check out this trailer for an upcoming film, Penalty. You can also donate to its making.


On Facebook, Is a Threat Really a Threat?

The U.S. Supreme Court is tackling a question of increasing importance in the age of social media and the internet: what constitutes a threat on Facebook?

Via NPR.


What’s Wrong With Flickr Profiting From Your Images?



Or let’s just call it a charming twist of fate. You see, this past week some photographers vented their anger at Flickr for a perfectly legal maneuver. Or let’s call that, a smart maneuver. What happened?

Some photographers have uploaded their images to Flickr and deliberately selecting a Creative Commons license that grants users full commercial use of these images. Good enough. The “problem” of course is that it struck Yahoo Inc. (owner of Flickr) that it could profit from the printing and sale of these same commercially licensed images.

So there’s not really a problem here, much less a legal issue. This is a funny case of seeing no problem with dishing out free food to whomever wants it — and as much food as any one person wants, and then finding out that the same free food you handed out is being sold for a profit by the same food taker. This might hurt your feelings, or you may think the world immoral and unethical, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with selling off that food for a profit, or with what Flickr is doing.

At the end of the day there is one way to lick those “free culture” wounds…change the Creative Commons license.



I Mean, Why Can’t Corporations Be Artists?

Via quite peculilar at flickr.

Via quite peculilar at flickr.

Here’s an interesting conundrum. If a major petroleum corporation is alleged to “steal” an idea from a visual artist, the artistic community tends to side with the artist. But if it’s one artist “stealing” copyrightable work from another artist, most of the so-called art world tends to side the appropriator (usually the most commercially viable one).

The reason – clearly not a very rigorous one – stems from the fact that in the former example the appropriator is not a Liberal’s darling (and I don’t say this to be flippant or bombastic; the comment is simply borne out witnessing this effect the last decade or so). But what about the latter? That’s the one that interests me. If a visual artist can appropriate for whatever reason, under the guise that any form of appropriation is, per se, fair use, why can’t a corporation do the same? And if everyone’s an artist, why can’t a corporation – which already merits personhood and First Amendment protection, also be an artist? (I am of course here thinking theory and not current law, although under current 2nd Circuit law I’m not sure there’s much of a difference.)

If nothing’s original and we’re all just robotic retards reconfiguring unoriginal content, why does it matter who appropriates, and for what purpose?

Take a look at this example, concerning Kurt Perschke’s Redball Project, via our friends over at Hyperallergic. What say you?

UPDATE: Donn Zaretsky has some thoughts here.


Are ‘Volunteers’ Protected From Employment Discrimination?

According to the Sixth Circuit, not as far as Title VII is concerned.

So, can an organization decide to terminate a volunteer’s affiliation with it because of the volunteer’s religion?

The answer, according to a recent panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, is that volunteers who do not receive remuneration and other financial benefits and whose performance is not controlled by the organization in a manner similar to the employee-employer relationship are not “employees” under Title VII, and may not advance employment discrimination claims.

Something to keep in mind if you volunteer for arts nonprofits. Via JD Supra.


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