Posts filed under ‘Art Blogosphere’
I guess I’ve been under a rock. I missed David Pagel’s review of Diana Thater’s current exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art and the subsequent backlash in the comments and on Thater’s blog. I wanted to leave a reply to one of Naomi Treblaine’s comments on Culture Monster, but the comments have been closed (why Culture Monster?), so I’ll post it here:
“A newspaper is not the place for a mean ‘critic’ to attack an artist. It is to present work, describe and analyze.”
Describe and Analyze? Wrong! This is exactly what is wrong with criticism today. Most critics kowtow to the advertisers or higher ups and turn in a few paragraphs with absolutely no opinion whatsoever. Pagel’s review contains plenty of description with no personal attacks. I have to admit I haven’t seen the show yet, but lambasting rehashes of academic post-structuralist critiques is par for the course nowadays, and a genuine assessment of the work. I have read the numerous defensive comments and Thater’s own history on her blog and there have been a few nasties slung on both sides. But notwithstanding, it is the critic’s charge to evaluate works of art. Chiding a critic who pans a show for being “mean” is just silly.
I’m not a big fan of Shepard Fairey’s work, so I shied away from commenting on this story. But I’m really glad to see Fairey fighting back instead of settling. I’m tired of law suits, intimidation and takedown notices because big companies have big bucks to pay big lawyers to threaten people who have made creative work that is not infringing on copyright and is within fair use guidelines. Fairey’s lawyers are from the the Fair Use Project at Stanford University. They provide legal support and access to lawyers who defend copyright claims pro bono or at reduced rates to fight these big companies with deep pockets in order to help extend the boundaries of fair use and enhance creative freedom.
There are four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair, and I’d like to examine how Fairey’s poster measures up to these criteria.
1. “The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is transformative, of commercial nature or is for nonprofit or educational purposes”
Fairey’s lawyers contend in the suit that he used the photograph only as a reference. He transformed the image into an “abstracted and idealized visual image that created…new meaning and conveys a radically different message” from the photo Mannie Garcia took. Fairey used the photo as inspiration to help create something new; it was not merely copied verbatim. Also the purpose of the poster was political and nonprofit. Fairey has said that he did not receive any of the money raised; it went to the campaign and the National Endowment for the Arts.
2. “The nature of the copyrighted work”
The courts tend to give the user more leeway to copy from factual works. The photograph was taken in the context of news reporting and, I feel that the photograph was used primarily for factual information. What does Obama look like? What shape are his features? How does the light fall across his face when it is tilted up? Most artists who make representational works, must refer to photos to see what something looks like in order to render it, especially when it comes to things they don’t normally have access to personally.
3. “Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole”
Although the AP is comparing the poster to a much cropped down version of the photograph, the original photo pictures both George Clooney and Obama with a flag in the background. Fairey actually only used a small portion of the entire photograph.
4. “The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work”
Another important fair use factor is whether the use deprives the copyright owner of income or undermines a new or potential market for the copyrighted work. In this case the opposite has happened. The poster, if anything, has substantially increased the original photo’s value and its marketability.
I think Fairey meets all four criteria of fair use and I hope his lawyers are able to prove his case. It would be a step in the right direction in breaking down the stranglehold on creativity that copyright laws and overzealous copyright holders have triggered. The original intention of the copyright provisions were to stimulate, not stifle, creativity, but today that spirit and purpose have been all but lost in the corporate grab of intellectual property.
(Also an interesting twist: Mannie Garcia, a temporary hire and no longer with the AP, claims that he is the copyright holder, and he seems to be much more sympathetic to Fairey’s fair use claim.)
UPDATE: Jonathan Melber at the Huffington Post also thinks the AP has no case against Shepard Fairey.
UPDATE: Watch the “LIVE from the NYPL & WIRED” podcast of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid with Lawrence Lessig, Shepard Fairey and Steven Johnson.
The Brandies news quickly exploded in the blogosphere, but before it soon fades to a whimper, here are a few more laments:
Laurie Fendrich at the Chronicle of Higher Education has several posts on Brandeis including this one where she notes, “Brandeis is unlikely to change its mind at this point. In fact, as far as the university is concerned, the worst part of the messy business of shutting down the Rose is now over… As Michael Rush, the director of the Rose, put it, ‘The Rose is over.’”
At Obit, arts writer and Brandeis alum, Jeff Weinstein, offers a personal story of the life-changing impact the Rose Museum made in his life. He considers its closing as a death saying, “If the Rose and its art were to go, a serious part of me would mourn, and as far as I’m concerned, mourning is incontrovertible evidence that something alive and important has passed away.”
I’m also glad to see Roberta Smith of the New York Times weigh in with her criticism after visiting the museum. Here are a couple of great points that she makes:
“What the university’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, and the trustees don’t seem to realize is how their actions stain the reputation of Brandeis itself. He characterized the choice as ‘painful’ and ‘difficult,’ but it had all the earmarks of a desperate quick fix rather than a rational decision.”
“The Rose is an innocent bystander that is being punished for its excellence.”
It’s hard to understand why Brandeis feels it needs to take such a drastic step to plug the financial hole, but a few stories today may shed some light.
Judith H. Dobrizynski at the Daily Beast has an exclusive interview with a top Brandeis official about the university’s financial collapse. “Peter French, Brandeis’s chief operating officer, explained that the university’s situation is far more dire than it appeared in news accounts”
But David Bonetti of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch smells something fishy.
“You don’t shutter a highly respected museum, sell off its collection – estimated to be worth in excess of $350 million – eliciting in the process a cacaphony of denunciation on the internet and blogosphere, and risk destroying the university’s good name, for such a relatively small amount of money… No, the rape of the Rose suggests that the $79 million is just the tip of the iceberg.”
He also reveals that Brandeis’s Treasurer is Rhonda Zinner, daughter of Carl and Ruth Shapiro, Brandeis donors who admit to losing close to $500 million from both their Foundation and their personal holdings in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.
We also get a little more insight into the decision to close the Rose Museum from Felix Salmon at Portfolio.com. He spoke to David Nathan, director of communications in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at Brandeis who confirmed that the reason the Rose is being closed has everything to do with deaccessioning rules.
“By shutting down the museum, it can ignore all rules pertaining to deaccessioning, and worry only about the strings attached by donors to individual artworks. So it seems that for the sake of doing an end-run around the objections of the AAMD and the museum’s executives, Brandeis decided to close the museum entirely.”
The College Art Association, the Association of Art Museum Curators, the American Association of Museums, and a group of contemporary art museum directors have all released statements in protest of the Museum closing and collection sale.
From CAA: “According to news reports, neither Brandeis University nor the Rose Art Museum is on the brink of economic collapse, nor are they unable to maintain the collections. Given that no clear explanation has been offered on the school’s financial exigencies, the closure of the Rose Art Museum and the sale of its collection appear to be in violation of professional museum standards and of academic transparency and due process; the decision also demonstrates a lack of academic responsibility and fiduciary foresight. We appeal to the Trustees of Brandeis to revisit and reverse their decision.”
From AAMC: “The decision to regard the collection of the museum as an asset rather than as a wealth of ideas in physical form was made without consultation of all the most important parties.”
From the AAM: “If it cannot afford to maintain and exhibit its collection, we urge Brandeis University to seek another steward of it. There are many fine museums in the region capable of caring for these works, even on a temporary basis, while the university explores other options”
From the museum directors: “This decision violates every rule of ethics and responsible governance adopted by museums across the country, and it is all the more reprehensible that this decision was reached through a process that lacked candor and transparency… The Rose itself was not in financial dire straits, so it is unconscionable that the University would identify it as an expendable resource given the limited stake Brandeis maintained in its operation and given its demonstrated ability to stand on its own at a time of financial instability.”
Both Tyler Green and Richard Lacayo are noting that University President Jehuda Reinharz is backing away from the announcement to sell the collection saying they don’t intend to sell the entire collection, just select works, or maybe not sell any of the works at all if the economy picks up.
More great coverage by the Boston Globe:
“Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz yesterday opened the
possibility that the university would not sell its $350-million art
collection, but said he would not change his mind about closing the Rose
Art Museum and turning it into a study and research center.”
“Harry Philbrick, director of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, e-mailed me a letter he sent to Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz on behalf of a group of museum directors and curators who are angry about the university’s decision.”
At Modern Art Notes, Tyler Green posts an email the office of Brandeis president, Jehuda Reinharz, is sending to people who have emailed the university in opposition to his decision.
There are a couple of followups at the Globe:
Geoff Edgers at the Boston Globe reports that donors and supporters of the Rose Art Museum are exploring whether they can block Brandeis University’s decision to close the museum and sell the art collection and gives a corrected number on the pieces involved. (“The museum’s collection includes 7,180 works, 84 percent of which were gifts, said Rose registrar Valerie M. Wright.”)
Standout quote: “The trustees and the president should call Barack Obama and say we can solve the financial crisis,” he said. “Why don’t we sell all the collections in the Smithsonian?”
The Globe’s art critic, Sebastian Smee thinks the decision to hawk their gem of a collection is unconscionable. He says, “It is more than a mistake. It is a scandal.”
There are a couple of Q&As with Michael Rush:
Richard Lacayo had a phone conversation with Michael Rush, director of the Rose Art Museum. Rush feels that because the board of trustees were already familiar with the complications of deaccessioning from a previous sale of work, “rather than go through the scrutiny that would accompany the sale of a few paintings, they decided instead on what…they felt would be a one-shot situation of horrible feedback over closing the museum.”
Tyler Green also has an interview at Modern Art Notes. Rush emphasizes that the Rose is not in financial trouble; Brandeis is.
Ed Winkleman wonders if the trustees are over-reaching to cover their true, still highly controversial, objective: “I do have to note that I wonder whether the Trustees are only saying they’re closing the museum, knowing that it would cause such a stir that then, in response to the outcry, they could agree to scale back and say they would only deaccession a few lucrative pieces. Everyone would then be relieved (rather than if they started with a deaccession proposal and had to deal with the outrage that would stir).”
Daniel Orkin writes in The Justice, the Independent Student Newspaper of Brandeis University, that he has, “never been more embarrassed to be a part of Brandeis University than…at this very moment” and thinks that, “its time for the student body to fight back.”
Brandeis President, Jehuda Reinharz, defends the Art Museum sale on NPR’s All Things Considered.