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The Art Law blog relayed to me today that the Rufino Tamayo painting rescued from a dumpster by one self-proclaimed “dumpster diver,” Emily Gibson, has sold for $1 million. Not bad. The episode isn’t particularly instructive, unless we do a little diving into the NYTimes article. Here are some excerpts that I number based on their chronological occurrence:

  1. “The couple reported the theft to the local and federal authorities, and an image was posted on the databases of the International Foundation for Art Research and the Art Loss Register.”
  2. “She had gone back to the Alexandria the day after taking it home and asked the doormen there if anyone could tell her who had put it on the street.”
  3. “A few months after she hung it in her apartment, she said, she called a friend who had worked at an auction house and described the painting to him. “He asked me if it had a signature,” she recalled. It did. […] But her friend did not seem very interested in her discovery, she said.”
  4. “There she saw several stickers — one from the Perls Gallery in Manhattan, now closed; another from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris, where it had been exhibited in 1974; and a third from the Richard Feigen Gallery in Manhattan. She called the Feigen gallery and told someone there about all the information on the labels. Days later, she said, the gallery called back to say it had no record of the painting.”

By my count, the dumpster diver sought information from four different sources, including both lay people and professionals in the art world, before she actually found a decent lead. Some of these people really ought to have had more of a clue. The lesson?

Information in the art world is diffused amongst thousands and thousands of entities who do not pool their information. While some do, and an INTERPOL notice might make some people glance, this is a drop in the bucket of the total community. Hopefully, the market will provide for more centralized databases of information a la Wikipedia and ARRD.


Terrific series of posts this week in Modern Art Notes: Subverting the Dominant Installation: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

They say that there are two sides to every coin. Just as there is this nasty “Dark Side” of copyright, there is a “Bright Side” to blogging. The two are intimately related. Allow me to explain.

The information revolution that began with the printing press picked up speed in the 20th century. Suddenly, less information was being lost (more information was being preserved, transferred, and used), and more people were gaining access to information. Newspapers, radios, televisions, cars, theaters, comics, books, planes, magazines, tapes, CDs, DVDs, HD-DVDs — and best  of all — the internet! Because information became so easy to preserve and/or transfer, people making a living off their creative livelihood demanded stronger protections. And while I’m not so sure the history is exactly right, you see the gist of it: there is a tug of war between the forces craving information and the forces that want to restrict its flow. Intellectual property, after all, is very different from land.

Blogging is one of the frontiers in this battle. Hacks of all stripes regularly steal the content of the outstanding blogs on the internet, such as Registan, by far the best site on anything having to do with Central Asia, and now, Michael Yon, the extraordinary and unsurpassed photoblogger who chronicles the Iraq War.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bill Patry has an excellent post on his blog highlighting the travesty of criminalization of copyright infringement. He writes about Hew Griffiths, an Australian who was heavily involved in software piracy. Griffiths has been extradited to the United States to face charges of copyright infringement and “conspiracy” to infringe copyright (the offense of “conspiracy” being one of the biggest jokes ever perpetrated by our criminal law system: it is meant to be one of those catch-all offenses, not hard to prove, to compensate for the chance you can’t nab a criminal on the real crime).

Although he was a software pirate in Australia, Australia allowed his extradition. He apparently would have just agreed to serve time in Australia, which doesn’t seem unreasonable, but the US didn’t let him get away with that.

This isn’t a question at all, as the Wikipedia article on Griffiths suggests, of sovereignty. None of this impinges upon Australia’s sovereignty. The real question to me is one of criminality. These kinds of draconian responses to purely economic damages, which fall well short of inflicting the harm of, say, the economic damages of Enron, act as an illustration of the undue influence of special interests in our copyright law system as well as a signal to institutions that copyright law is an enemy to be feared and respected.

My legal fees up, your museum accession funds down.

Check out who is listening to what and where. Very cool. Quick observations:

  1. Note the difference, just going across the border, between American states and Canada: no Carrie Underwood!
  2. As you get to Iceland, the music map starts getting a bit dicey.
  3. The trade deficit with China doesn’t appear to be as pronounced in music, but nevertheless, if all we’re (as in, the West, not Canada) exporting is Avril Lavigne, we’re in trouble.
  4. We are going to war with Russia. Soon.
  5. Korea is to America what Andoria is to Earth: completely foreign, but allied… I’ll take it.

( h/t Information Aesthetics )

In my capacity as someone who works with rights and reproductions, I have interacted a few times with rights management organizations, whose main purpose is to manage copyrights on behalf of artists or their estates. The two titans of rights management in the US are ARS and VAGA.

Well, no where on ARS’ website do they bother to give a full disclosure about the nature of copyright law. The sum total of its Fair Use discussion is: ____ . That’s right: nada! This is part of why educational institutions like museums and libraries are increasingly scared of using reproductions for any of its purposes without gaining licenses from the rights-holders. Hence, the reason why the Artist Rights and Reproductions Database exists. I am not so against gaining licenses as I am rights management organizations for charging fees on these very same institutions, whose uses are usually going to be covered by Fair Use — although by no means all (for instance, commercial uses like taking a painting, printing it on umbrellas, postcards, mugs and selling them).

Additionally, both the rights management titans maintain a policy of only granting one-time use licenses as opposed to the general non-exclusive copyright license that covers limited non-commercial uses until the license is revoked, and it may be revoked at any time. Most artists, even if they are famous, are only too happy to grant these licenses. But if artists are represented by the two organizations, I don’t even bother sending a request.

Recently, I sent a non-exclusive copyright proposal to an artist’s heir in the hopes that he would respond favorably to it. Instead, he referred me to VAGA, which manages his father’s estate. A few days later, he followed up with me to see if VAGA had been of any help. I responded:

Greetings! Thank you for your help in referring us to VAGA. I have not contacted VAGA because VAGA has a policy that it does not grant non-exclusive copyright licenses, even for not-for-profit educational institutions seeking them for non-commercial purposes.

Rather, they grant one-time use licenses based on the intended use and often charge a fee, again, regardless of whether or not it is a not-for-profit educational institution or use (such as ours). In any case, I appreciate your assistance and wish you the best.

I received this response:

So you wanted to publish something without VAGA license? Just to clarify.

Clearly, there was a language barrier. I responded:

We do not want to publish anything — yet. We seek non-exclusive copyright licenses because we may want to publish things in the future, but ONLY in non-commercial contexts, such as educational brochures, or CDs for teachers. We choose to do this in order to insulate ourselves from copyrightinfringement down the line.

VAGA makes it VERY difficult for educational institutions and museums to do this without paying onerous fees.

His response was swift:

They protect the artist Christian. Their fees aren’t really so very high. But I appreciate your explanation.

I appreciated the friendly response. I didn’t respond because, after all, the customer is always right and there is no sense in potentially antagonizing the heir, although I would be fascinated to have a discussion with him about the rights process. Alas, I tend to offend when provoked. It is true that the fees aren’t “so very high” as he claims, but it depends on your frame of reference. If you are a private gallery with substantial financial resources located in NYC, then you may be required by copyright law to pursue such licenses, but if you are a not-for-profit museum attached to a public university whose financial means are not necessarily substantial, then you don’t have the ability to gain licenses to everything you want or need and really don’t have to most of the time, as so many uses are protected by Fair Use, in ways I enumerate in this post.

To be fair, I can see where they would protect artists in some cases, but this small, perhaps insubstantial part of their business they need to change. I realize that this would lead to less employment for my kind, but that is a price we all should be willing to pay. Besides, maybe lawyers can use their not inconsiderable intellectual talents in other fields where they are more desperately needed.

Just a short note to say: WHOA! Alexandre Dumas is back, and only 137 short years after his death. A Dumas scholar unwittingly discovered The Last Cavalier, written in serial form over a period of one year shortly before the author’s death. And it’s getting rave reviews. Check it out.

( h/t The Millions )

[WARNING: SPOILERS] After getting some favorable comments on book blogs, The Bad Girl seemed like just the book to get me back into Fiction while I endured the never-ending assignments in school. Written by former Peruvian presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa, about whom I have always had strong, but mixed feelings, The Bad Girl (Travesuras de la niña mala) is a quick and interesting read, but I wouldn’t describe it as enthralling as some American critics do. ( A round-up of reviews may be found here. )

The basic plot of the book is that a man, The Good Boy, and a woman, The Bad Girl, meet when children and then do so again throughout the rest of their lives, as each pursues their dreams (his, to live in Paris for the rest of his live, hers, to live in luxury with pride) until one of them passes away. The Good Boy tends to treat The Bad Girl with compassion, understanding, and deference, while The Bad Girl tends to treat The Good Boy like an object whose humanity factors into her own decision-making not at all.

And yet, this is a love story. One might not think so for about 200 pages, but in the end, you will know.

Some will be misled by the themes. The Bad Girl is, for all her faults, a very strong character. As the New York Times review by Kathryn Harrison explains, Llosa has always been obsessed with Madame Bovary, so if you liked that work, then I think you should appreciate this one. Like Madame Bovary, and to some extent The Awakening, The Bad Girl features a woman fettered by society who bursts forth, challenging conventions and redefining the nature of relationships with other people in society. The Bad Girl, who assumes many names in the time that we know her, is labeled an egotist many times and scorches many more people than just The Good Boy, who is the narrator.

Many reviews criticize the author for the narrator’s lack of character, or his unreality. I am not so sure this is a fair criticism. I think this is a case of the seen and unseen in criticism. Who wants to talk about a good boy? (I guess I don’t since I won’t for the rest of this post LOL.) Perhaps it’s just easier for the woman to draw the attention, especially when the man seems so harmless. Take this, for example, the conclusion from the NYT review:

The heroism of [Madame Bovary and The Bad Girl] is that they refuse to be diminished by modest, reasonable hopes or by respectable society. Creatures of appetite — for sex, money, excitement, life — bad girls serve their hunger first, and last. They are terrible and they are enviable, because they won’t settle for less than everything they want. Because, in the end, they accept not only their essential nature, but also the consequences of their choice to fulfill rather than deny it.

I think this is a rather overstated analysis of The Bad Girl’s character, and altogether too simple. Given the prose, you too may be tempted to succumb to the notion that these are static characters. One’s preferences need not change through time in order for a character to be dynamic because the seeds of one’s growth may be sown at a very early age and these seeds can transform aims, objectives, memories, and feelings. We see very interesting things happen to The Bad Girl, and I have to wonder if Slate’s Michael Wood even read the book, given his intemperate, ill-considered review:

Neither our language nor Ricardo’s can name her or define her. She can’t be admired, she can’t be pitied, and she can’t, except in Ricardo’s desperate parody of an old movie, The Blue Angel perhaps, be the heroine of a grand fatal romance.

Do not believe this for a second. You may at times hate this woman, and you may be repulsed at others. My hunch is that if you give it some thought, you will find a woman who can certainly be admired. She refuses to be conquered by anything, and one can imagine how isolated she must be, as if the only things that existed in the world for a time were her and death. We pity her for where she came from, and her hypersensitivity for which she developed protections in order to soften the pain of slights.

Romance and love stories are more than candles, valentines, and sex. This may sound odd to you, but the book this resembles the most in its core, seems to me The Giving Tree. Just as The Bad Girl is a re-telling of Madame Bovary, it is a re-telling of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, with the genders reversed, though the genders aren’t really important for the essence of The Giving Tree. In any case, I think I like this telling better. It’s not as powerful, but it’s much more human.

Why, after all, did she always deign to meet him? Why, after all, did she always seem like she wanted to hear cheap, sentimental things? What pride the woman had! One of my favorite books, Herbert Mueller‘s The Uses of the Past, has an interesting passage on pride:

Here again St. Sophia gives the clue to a basic ambiguity. Pride goeth before a fall– but first it lifts men to real heights. Without pride the tragic hero would not be a hero; without it there would be no tragedy in history because no civilization at all. And without it there would be no higher religions. It was pride that built St. Sophia. It was still pride that led thousands to pray in St. Sophia in the miserable last days of Byzantium.

For so long, we were shown that she could never be conquered so as to be a loving wife. We were shown her disdain for all things boring or poor. But like the toothbrush that The Good Boy stashed from his limited time with her, that he would keep as a memento of his love, we found out that she had stashed away something too: their marriage. Just so, and as with the prayers offered in the last days of Byzantium, in The Bad Girl’s last days, she shows her ultimate pride and in so doing transcends her own limits, proving she is no static character and certainly no woman merely accepting some hedonistic “essential nature.”

She calls herself “wife.”

Interesting bio today on Peter Nadas, a Hungarian writer, in the New York Times. The article alludes to strange happenings in New Europe, as a result of memory and fear, or, from this observer, history and drink. Either way, the result is some form of trauma brought on by the memory and experience of the past, memories that Westerners were not largely privy to.

“For lack of something better to do, I resigned, walked out, and turned my back on the system to save my soul,” he wrote. The era of so-called peaceful coexistence, during the cold war, compromised everyone’s morals, and words — issued by Hungarian authorities, or shared among friends who couldn’t help suspecting one another of being informants, or coming from the West, which promised help but didn’t give it — no longer meant what they were supposed to.

Mr. Nadas recently reflected in a Hungarian newspaper, Elet es Irodalom, on the ambiguity of William Shirer’s reporting from Germany while trying to skirt Nazi censors. Under such circumstances, “an ambiguous sentence is a triumph,” Mr. Nadas noted. “The human spirit rejoices in single-handedly outsmarting the state police.”

But then, can someone in, say, Boston, “pouring sweet maple syrup over sizzling bacon” understand “from such ambiguous sentences how deformed the thoughts and actions of someone can become who for years has used their mother tongue for hiding thoughts rather than for expressing them?” he asked. “How meaning slips around in the shadow of words, hissing through the gaps in their definitions?”

How, indeed. These comments recall the pained tales of many artists whose time has not yet come in the West. They all seem to allude to some form of terror, following from the uprooting of meaningful, authentic human relations. I suspect that in the coming years we will be hearing a lot more of Nadas, Czeslaw Milosz, and even Vaclav Havel. They each write about how words can become twisted, intentions can become shadows, and people can become prisoners as much of their self-made purgatories as the state. And yet, for each of them, something remains immutable. It is not, as Minnie Driver would have it, love. Rather, it seems to be as Havel would have it:

If we start with the presupposition that art constitutes a distinctive way of seeking truth – truth in the broadest sense of the word, that is, chiefly the truth of the artist’s inner experience – then there is only one art, whose sole criterion is the power, the authenticity, the revelatory insight, the courage and suggestiveness with which it seeks its truth, or perhaps the urgency and profundity of this truth.

We must never go back to this place where the voice of the state drowned the voice of the people.

For many years, Britain has argued that it possessed the legal right to keep the Elgin Marbles, one of the world’s most desired artistic objects. Although it’s hard to say what a private collector might pay for the Marbles, so-named after the man who took them, it’s not hard to say that a private collector will never ever get their hands on them. But another argument proffered by lawyers and scholars alike has been that even if Greece did have rights in the Marbles, or even if Britain absconded with them illegally, Greece does not have the facilities or the stability to hold on to the Marbles safely.

Those days are over.

With the construction of the New Acropolis Museum, the claim has lost its strength. The creep of the European Union was perhaps the death knell, but the Museum means Britain has but one leg left to stand on. ( I am, quite frankly, neutral, since I have not really delved into the issue. ) In an article in the New York Times (“Where Gods Yearn for Long-Lost Treasures“), Nicolai Ouroussoff writes:

When this museum in Athens opens next year, hundreds of marble sculptures from the old Acropolis museum alongside the Parthenon will finally reside in a place that can properly care for them. […] by fusing sculpture, architecture and the ancient landscape into a forceful visual narrative, the New Acropolis Museum delivers a revelation that trumps the tired arguments and incessant flag waving by both sides. It’s impossible to stand in the top-floor galleries, in full view of the Parthenon’s ravaged, sun-bleached frame, without craving the marbles’ return.

Indeed, this article is at its weakest when it decries Lord Elgin’s theft as robbing meaning from the Marbles:

In dismantling the ruins of one of the glories of Western civilization, Lord Elgin robbed them of their meaning. The profound connection of the marbles to the civilization that produced them is lost.

If Lord Elgin had succeeded in robbing them of their meaning, the following would be true: Britain wouldn’t care in the least about them. No one else would care about them. They wouldn’t be worth nearly as much. We wouldn’t be having this discussion or this New Acropolis Museum, or these articles in the New York Times. Rather, it’s precisely because the opposite is true: Lord Elgin distended the meaning, added meaning, and for better or for worse, stretched it across a continent. The Marbles mean much more in their absence from the Acropolis to Greece, and much more to those who have gotten to see it from their perch of safety in Britain.

Thankfully, Mr. Ouroussoff’s article is not full of hyperbolic statements. He makes for a very convincing tour guide through the New Acropolis Museum:

The entire floor is wrapped in glass so that you can gaze at the surrounding city. The genius lies in how the room snaps disparate sculptural and architectural fragments into their proper context. You first enter the south side of the gallery, where the museum’s friezes and metopes will be seen against the chalky backdrop of the rooftops of Athens. As you turn a corner, the Parthenon comes into full view; the ancient temple hovers through huge windows to your right. The eastern facade of the Parthenon and the sculptures that once adorned it unite in your imagination, allowing you to picture the temple as it was in Periclean Athens. Eventually you descend through a sequence of smaller galleries, where the glories of the High Classical period gradually give way to Roman copies of Greek antiquities. The Parthenon fades from view.

It’s a magical experience. Rather than replicating or simply echoing the Classical past, Mr. Tschumi engages in a dialogue that reaches across centuries.

In the end, the biggest consequence is that the completion of the museum may win over many of the persuasive skeptics of Greece’s ability to handle the Marbles with safety. I believe it is unlikely that Britain will part with them, but they might, and if they do, it will be because Greece continues to play its cards well.

( For an outstanding article on the subject, complete with pictures, go to Richard Lacayo at Time; Image credit: New York Times, available on its slideshow )

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