I’m late to this party, but it’s such a topic of discussion that I have to chime in.
If you aren’t already familiar with the ongoing saga between Swiss artist Christoph Büchel and MASS MoCA, you should be. It’s a tale of an ambitious art installation gone awry and the museum stepping in to fill the role of the absent artist (or was the museum simply curating?). An artist’s installation on exhibit against his strenuous objections. The artist accused of being difficult. The museum accused of being self-serving.
Now . . . I don’t know every detail in this case (yes, it has become a lawsuit), but if ever a partnership has screamed out for a legal contract that spelled out the minutiae of a project, this was it. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. And would such contracts be too restrictive?
As a former museum professional, I want to be sympathetic to the museum without even knowing the particulars. However, as an artist’s advocate, I simply can’t comprehend showing artists’ work against their will.
Today’s New York Times gives the latest update. Among my favorite quotes from Times esteemed art critic Roberta Smith:
- If an artist who conceived a work says that it is unfinished and should not be exhibited, it isn’t — and shouldn’t be. End of story.
- Yes, artists can be formidably difficult. The larger the artwork, the bigger the ego.
- But by opening this strange quasi display, MassMoCA does even more damage to itself and to its reputation as a steward of art and as a conduit between living artists and the public.
- Never underestimate the amount of resentment and hostility we harbor toward artists. It springs largely from envy. They can behave quite badly, but mainly they operate with a kind of freedom and courage that other people don’t risk or enjoy. And it can lead to wondrous things.
- In the end it doesn’t matter how many people toil on a work of art, or how much money is spent on it. The artist’s freedom includes the right to say, “This is not a work of art unless I say so.”
Edward Winkleman says: “I can't help but feel that no matter how sincerely the institution feels that's the case, broadcasting it this way will only serve to weaken the trust between itself and other artists, not help it.”
There's bound to be a book about this in the future. I look forward to reading both sides–in depth–and learning how such an incredible opportunity for both the artist and museum went flop.