Saturday, September 22, 2007

art vs. artists

On the same page of this morning's New York Times article about the future of the Barnes collection there was a second article about the resolution of a court case involving the Massahusetts Museum of Modern Art and an swiss artist named Christopher Buchel. The museum had arranged with the artist to create a extensive walk-through artistic environment in a warehouse owned by the museum. The project quickly turned sour with the artist complaining of insufficient support, and the museum complaining of the artist's prima donna demands. The budget doubled and finally the project fell through with the artist walking off and the project incomplete.

The museum, which owns the unfinished work, wanted to recoup some of their investment by showing it. The artist sued to stop them saying that it was unethical to show his work in a manner different than he had intended. The court ruled that as long as the museum clearly labels that the work is incomplete no damage is done to the artist.

This case has parallels to the story of the Barnes foundation appearing on the same newspaper page. Mr. Barnes used the works of Renoir and Cezanne and others in his collection to make artistic statements of his own that had nothing to do with the original intentions of the artists. In essence Barnes created his own environmental art piece and then demanded that his vision never be altered. But he did so by appropriating the creations, and perverting the intent of dozens of other artists. This was unfair and I'm glad that Barnes' iron hand is now being pried open.

Once art is created it belongs to the world. The owners become stewards for protecting the art and sharing it with the public. This is what Mass MOCA is doing with its unfinished Christopher Buchel work. Buchel's wish that the art not be seen is not an inherent part of his creation and need not be honored. Meanwhile the art that Barnes' eccentricity has kept hidden from the public, will now fulfill the original creator's intentions and be seen.

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