Saturday, June 23, 2018

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.


Costco and Bulk Counterfeits

The Los Angeles Times reported today, Friday, October 26th, that the mammoth bulk-seller corporation known as Costco has reached a settlement agreement with artist, Cao Yong. Costco reached a settlement this week with Yong in an art-counterfeiting suit he had brought in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. He claimed that the mammoth, members-only merchandising chain had sold phony prints of his paintings in Southern California and provided buyers with faked certificates deeming them “signed and numbered by the artist.”

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Richard Prince: A Mother Walks Into a Bar…

Regarding Richard Prince’s Guggenheim exhibition, Donn Zaretsky points to a past legal issue concerning Richard Prince and the once-young Brooke Shields. In 1975, Brooke’s mom, Terri Shields, gave photographer Garry Gross consent to use Brooke’s now famous image of her as a 10 year old standing in a bathtub. In the 1981 lawsuit, Shields v. Gross , Brooke commenced an action in tort and contract against Gross seeking compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction permanently enjoining Gross from any further use of the photographs. She lost. The issue at hand was weather or not an infant model may disaffirm a prior unrestricted consent executed on her behalf by her parent and maintain an action against her photographer for republication of photographs of her.


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Rotting Flowers and VARA

From Donn Zaretsky and Ed Winkelman comes good news for artists. After the dismal MASS MoCA decision, the artist Chapman Kelley has won a dispute with the Chicago Park District in federal court, in a case that bears on what can be classified as a work of art under the law.

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MASS MoCA Will Not Exhibit Büchel’s Artwork

After Christoph Büchel decided late yesterday to appeal Judge Ponsor’s decision to allow MASS MoCA to remove the yellow tarps and exhibit his art project, Training Ground for Democracy, without his consent, MASS MoCA decided today against removing the tarps and exhibiting it.

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Judge Rules MASS MoCA Can Exhibit Büchel’s Art Without His Consent

On Friday, September 21, federal judge Michael A. Ponsor ruled that the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art has the right to display Christoph Büchel’s unfinished art project without the artist’s consent.

This is a death-blow to contemporary artists, national and international alike. On its face, it gives a granting and/or commissioning institution the power to exhibit an artist’s art work without her/his permission unless there is a written agreement to the contrary. Theoretically, the judge’s decision eviscerates an artist’s power to dictate when the artist’s project is in a state where the artist feels comfortable and willing to put it out for public exposure. In effect, Judge Ponsor has now allowed museums and cultural institutions—and perhaps any institution—the ultimate say in what is and isn’t art. Tell that to Duchamp.

What MASS MoCA and its director, Joe Thompson, should realize, is that although they have been granted the legal right to show Büchel’s artwork, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. According to MASS MoCA, they will come to a decision as to whether or not to continue exhibiting Buchel’s work by this coming Tuesday. Even if they come to their senses and not continue to exhibit Büchel’s work, the damage has been done. Unless appealed, the ruling now gives visual artists much less protection under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), making this federal law much more useless than before.

On a side note, it is interesting to note the lack of support for Büchel from other artists. It is perhaps the nature of the current artworld beast, or the primary law of economics once again: supply vs. demand. When the supply of artists is at an all time high, artists are much less tempted to protest or organize for fear of being black-balled or denied a low-probability opportunity to exhibit at MASS MoCA. One can only wonder if the judge’s decision would have differed had there been more of an outcry from individual artists and not just Ed Winkleman, Robert Storr and Roberta Smith.

If there is anything remotely beneficial that came out of this mess, its MASS MoCA’s blog, which was begun this past July, and seemingly to counteract the negative press they were receiving from blogs, newspapers, and journals alike. However, although they try–in typical for-profit corporate fashion–to soften the negative impact of their blows upon artists, the blog seems to be misleading the public–specifically questions 5 and 8.

According to the court documents submitted, there was no written agreement between Büchel and MASS MoCA. Therefore, and to clarify any misunderstandings and misrepresentations, CLANCCO has asked MASS MoCA to provide us, and to their constituency in their blog, with a copy of the agreement between Büchel and the Museum. Additionally, their claim that their lawsuit against Büchel will not have any negative consequences on legal protection for visual artists and their artworks is ridiculous to say the least. In summation, MASS MoCA has in effect NOT narrowed the legal decision to apply solely to Büchel, but rather guaranteed that all artists are now subject to have their artistic ideas exhibited and shown to the public in any state of completion and at any time by setting the legal and binding precedent that “VARA does not address the display of unfinished work or the display of materials assembled for use in a work of art.”

UPDATE: As of Tuesday, September 25th, MASS MoCA has not accepted our request to make the agreement public, nor have they posted our request and made it public on their blog.


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