Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Private Contributions and Public Museums

A couple of interesting questions are being kicked around the “artworld” these days, and they concern (1) whether or not nonprofit art museums should, or can, accept money from commercial galleries with a clear financial stake in the exhibiting artist’s career, and in some cases in the actual artworks on display, and (2) whether financial contributions of galleries should, or can, influence what a nonprofit art museum exhibits?

The “should” aspect of these two questions is of course up for ethical debate (i.e.- appearance of impropriety). They are not new or groundbreaking issues, and have existed, let’s say, since Plato. The reason the ethical question is not that interesting, at least not at this point, is because ethical questions and dilemmas lack the power or, more appropriately, the force of law. To believe that a nonprofit museum could be ethically shamed into correcting itself is to believe that Barry Bonds was ignorant of the contents in his daily breakfast (or see MASS MoCAs treatment of Christoph Buchel).

The real issue is the first question: whether or not a nonprofit museum, with tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code, can receive monies from private art galleries or private collectors without these monies benefiting the private parties in more than “insubstantial” way. The reason for this is quite obvious, but just in case, the IRS Code stipulates that a party “donating” money to a 501(c)(3) organization cannot privately benefit from the acts and/or services of the 501(c)(3) because this same private party is already receiving a private benefit–a tax deductible contribution.

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Museum Accepts Owning Warhol Fakes

The Los Angeles Times reported today that the Moderna Museet in Stockholm has officially stated that six Brillo boxes in their Andy Warhol collection are fakes made in 1990, three years after Warhol’s death. The Museum had investigated the authenticity of its six wooden Brillo boxes, donated by its former head, Pontus Hulten, in 1995, after a Swedish newspaper claimed they were all copies.



Deaccessioning @ Christie’s

Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported today that a painting by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo that was expected to be sold at a Christie’s auction was pulled from the sale Monday after a court ruling.

The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the lower circuit court’s decision granting an injunction against Randolph College. The injunction stated that Randolph College can’t auction off four paintings from its beloved art collection — at least not for six months. Those who sued the college to block the sale, including alumnae, students and parents, hailed the ruling as a victory.

“Trovador” (”Troubador”) was expected to fetch up to three million dollars at the Latin American art auction. According to La Jornada, the Maier Museum’s ex-director, Ellen Agnes, stated that “since the works were donated, it is unethical for them to be auctioned off for profit. Additionally, they possess major artistic and academic merit.”

Although we’ve noted this before, it brings to mind Michael Asher’s incisive critique from 1999 of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, for MoMA’s own group exhibition, The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect. In his project, Publication listing deaccessions from the Painting and Sculpture Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1929-1998, Asher had MoMA list all the works deaccessioned by the museum during its history, including some very embarrassing deaccessions. In order to obtain this booklet, the viewer had to approach the bookstore and request one from a cashier, many times sent away with explanations that the booklet was out of stock, when in fact many of the booklets were stored by the museum.


Woman Fined for Kissing Cy Twombly

The BBC reported today that Cambodian-born Rindy Sam has been ordered to pay 1,500 euros in damages to the owner of the painting by a French judge. She must also pay a symbolic one euro to Twombly, as well as the gallery owner 500 euros.

“I just gave it a kiss. It was an act of love, when I kissed it, I wasn’t thinking. I thought the artist would understand,” she said.

Apparantly the fines for French kissing a painting are larger, and life-sentences are in order for sleeping with a painting, noted a renowned French art critic. However, flings with sculptures are not covered by French law.


Nussenzweig Loses–Again!

Third time is not a charm for old Erno Nussenzweig, the Hasidic Jewish man made famous by Philip Lorca di Corcia. The New York State Court of Appeals decided on Thursday, November 15, 2007, that Erno’s suit against di Corcia was barred by the statute of limitations as applicable to a right of privacy claim. The Court basically concluded that the statute of limitations begins to run on the first “date of publication,” and not on the first date that the plaintiff first discovered that her/his image was being used without consent. Thus a plaintiff must commence the suit within one year of first publication, and not within one year of first discovery. Although stupefying, the Court’s decision states that an artist/photographer has the right to exhibit any images of private individuals, without their consent, so long as the artist/photographer is crafty enough to keep these images from the wronged party, or better yet, so long as the artist/photographer takes pictures of private citizens who are not likely to hang out in Chelsea galleries. One wonders if these judges collect art.

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Photographing the Dead

A bit belated yet nonetheless timely, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of photojournalist Peter Turnley and Harper’s Magazine by upholding a March 2007 decision of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that Turnley had a First Amendment right to take a photograph of U.S. Army Spc. Kyle Brinlee’s open casket at a large public funeral in Oklahoma and Harper’s Magazine had the same right to publish it.

Brinlee was killed May 11, 2004, in Al Asad, Iraq, when his convoy struck an IED. More than 1,200 people attended his public funeral in a high school auditorium in Pryor, OK. Turnley photographed the funeral and pictures from it were part of an essay published in Harper’s Magazine in August 2004 in an essay titled “The Bereaved: Mourning the Dead, in America and Iraq.” Turnley’s photographic essay compared how the war dead are buried and mourned in American culture alongside similar images of how the war dead are buried and mourned in Iraqi culture.

Brinlee’s father, Robert Showler, and his maternal grandmother, Johnny Davidson, filed suit in April 2005. A federal judge in Oklahoma ruled in favor of Harper’s and Turnley citing First Amendment and state law protections. The plaintiffs appealed and an appeals court upheld the judgement, saying that Brinlee’s funeral was newsworthy and a matter of public interest.


Banksy the Prankster Caught on Camera

The BBC reported this morning that a photograph has surfaced which may contain the first actual image of Banksy (pronounced Bank-see) ever caught on celluloid (or digital bits). The image captures the would-be Banksy working on a London street with an assistant and the help of paint, tools, and scaffolding.

(Click on image to enlarge, Image courtesy of the BBC)

The photographer, who wishes to remain anonymous, is familiar with Banksy’s work and took the shot in Bethnal Green as she was passing the artist at work.

Click here for a little more on this story.


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