Earlier this fall, I had the lovely opportunity to speak at a symposium hosted by U.S.-Japan Creative Forum in Tokyo, Japan about artists and creatives "crossing borders." Attended by over 100 people from a variety of fields, the panelists included artist, Kohei Nawa; creative director and founder of PARTY, Naoki Ito; +81 Gallery New York Director, Eri Takane; and myself.
Referring to geographical, cross-disciplinary and hybrid borders, I spoke about legal support structures that exist for artists and creatives as they work in a more global and virtually connected world. Providing an introduction to areas of the law including copyright and contract, I wanted to stress the importance of understanding, and better utilizing, the legal framework in which artists and creatives work.
Thanks to Eri for her strong vision and amazing ability to bring the symposium together, and Akihito Nakanishi from the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo for his moderating skills and magnanimous support.
Do you have any questions or comments about or on the intersection between law and the arts? Please feel free to write me at my website, or ask me on twitter using the hashtag #JpUsCreative!
For those of you who are interested in hearing the symposium in Japanese, the video footage and some photos are available below:
A summary of live tweets from the symposium can be found here:
Ai Wei Wei is currently (yet again) a trending topic. On February 16, 2014, Dominican-born artist, Maximo Caminero was arrested at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) after smashing one of Ai's painted urns from Colored Vases to pieces. Caminero has alternately said that his action protests PAMM's choice of displaying international (rather than local) artists, and that his performance shows solidarity with Ai's dissident stance. Apprehended by police, Caminero was charged with criminal mischief and released after posting bail.
Here's an installation view of Ai's work:
Here is an example of a painting by Caminero:
Ai himself is no stranger to run-ins with the law. Undertaking performative acts that are deeply steeped in political messages, Ai almost appears to be challenging the authorities to censor him or restrict his activities. For example, after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, Ai became a vocal critic, calling for an acknowledgment that a lack of solid infrastructure may have lead to the increased number of school children deaths in the area. In 2009, he was allegedly beaten by the Chinese police in Sichuan while trying to testify on behalf of Tan Zuoren, another Chinese activist.
With respect to the incident at PAMM, Ai has been reported as stating that he does not agree with Caminero's strategy: "You cannot stand in front of a classical painting and kill somebody and say that you are inspired" by the artist.
At issue, here, is whether what is legally defined as an act of criminal mischief can be considered an artistic act with a political message that is worthy of protection. Under Florida law, a person commits criminal mischief if "he or she willfully and maliciously injures or damages by any means any real or personal property belonging to another, including...the placement of graffiti thereon or other acts of vandalism thereto." Therefore, according to this specific definition, just as much as Banksy cannot paint one of his iconic graffiti works on the side of a building he does not own if he intends to do harm, Caminero is similarly not permitted to break one of Ai's painted urns out of intended spite. However, Ai drawing a Coca-Cola logo on a Han dynasty urn or smashing a Han dynasty urn to pieces and creating artwork out of such actions is permissible, as long as Ai rightfully owns the urns. This being the case even if Ai's very act of purchasing and defacing cultural antiquities in the name of creating new art is impudent, co-optive and destructive.
It will be interesting to see whether criminal charges against Caminero continue to be pressed. Upon a plain language reading of the law, it appears that Caminero most likely committed criminal mischief, unless there is not enough evidence that he maliciously intended to damage Ai's work. In my view, though, the situation is a bit more nuanced than just proving whether a criminal act was committed. If I were PAMM's in-house lawyer (and of course, I'm not, and views in this post and throughout this blog are my own, made in my personal capacity, and not the views of any institutions with which I am affiliated), I think it would be important to discuss with PAMM's management the various risks involved in pressing criminal charges against an artist from the local community. While what Caminero did was disrespectful to the exhibited artwork, does it serve the interests of the general public to prosecute criminal charges? Would it not make more sense to hear Caminero's thoughts, identify his reasons for his actions, have him issue a public statement or apology--ideally, voluntarily-- and then document the event in a legally and art historically appropriate manner? Simultaneously, management should alert the insurance company that was covering the display of Ai's Coloured Vases, have an appraiser determine the value of the damaged urn (in relation to the composite whole), and make Ai financially whole.
Everyone now has the opportunity to create a public persona, and make it very public through social media. Sami Lukkarinen is interested in inserting his painterly artistic practice into this digiverse.
I first saw Lukkarinen’s work at Galerie Forsblom in Helsinki. Large-scale portraiture paintings that appear eery from afar, the paintings become abstract, thick applications of paint up close. While Lukkarinen cites Gerhard Richter as an influence, his actual painterly practice is more akin to an amalgam of Georges Seurat’s pointillism and Chuck Close's portraiture. By blowing up smaller photographic portraits, and applying differing shades of paint in organic square forms, Lukkarinen has succeeded in achieving pixellation, a phenomenon that occurs images on the Internet, through the ancient artistic practice of painting.
Below is a portrait by Lukkarinen and a video documenting Lukkarinen's practice.
Molecular biologist, Shinichi Fukuoka, discusses the brain's biases related to perception. The images below are from his Japanese text, You Can't Comprehend the World Even if You Divide It (Sekai wa Waketemo Wakaranai) (2009). They show Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (c. 16th century) in pixellated grid-form, starting from the largest (8x8) to the most minute (80x80). As the image is divided into smaller squares, the jump in tonal ranges between each square decreases, allowing us to look at the overall picture, instead of focusing on the details.
Lukkarinen's artistic practice traces the opposite path from the Mona Lisa images. Trolling Facebook for photographic portraits that catch his eye, he then interprets the image through his painterly process. In a feedback loop, once he is finished with his painting, he sends an image of his painting back into the digiverse by uploading the image on his Facebook fan page for all to see and to comment. He apparently does not ask permission to interpret the original image.
The artistic practices of contemporary artists using available Internet images as source material pose all sorts of interesting legal questions. For an artist like Lukkarinen, does the "sitter" of the original photograph have a claim against his use? Laws on the right of publicity usually cover the use of unique indicators such as name, image and likeness, and generally, you cannot use the likeness of another person for commercial purposes (without their consent). While specific rights are different from state to state, these rights protect all 2-legged people, whether they are famous or not. (Most of the existing case law on the right of publicity involve famous people, because famous people arguably capitalize on their likeness which is directly tied to their own brand, and they have more at stake when they are associated with other entities.)
At the end of the day, however, context is key. Even though Lukkarinen is using the likeness of others in his artistic practice, having a photo of yourself (that you yourself uploaded into a public sphere) transformed into a beautiful painting is not derogatory, but perhaps a celebration of ways in which contemporary artists find and use source material.
I recently visited Detroit on a whirlwind trip. As it was so jampacked, I hope to write about it in bits.
In preparation, I had been reading Jerry Herron’s elegiac homage to Detroit in I Remember Detroit (2004). Herron describes Detroit’s varied history as being a reflection of America’s confrontation with, and answer to, itself. For example, in the late 1920s, Detroit was touted as the “city of tomorrow”—at that time, Detroit was viewed as a place that reflected only the future, and neither the past nor the present.
Measuring “six times the land mass of Manhattan but is now home to only 700,000 people, down from 1.8 million”, should the Detroit of today be re-built? And if so, in what way? Now that Detroit is seeking bankruptcy protection, an interesting question that has arisen is whether the art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) should be deaccessioned to satisfy the city’s creditors. At issue is whether the collection of a non-profit museum should be used as an asset class—similar to any other—or whether it should be treated differently.
I’d like to think that it’s possible to answer the above question in a way that allows DIA to uphold its charitable mission by holding its collection in the public trust.