Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Limits, Part III: The Price of Bursting Through the Corral

A modest epilogue to Parts I and II, in which the author pontificates on the paradoxical nature of expecting acceptance for breaking all the rules.

UPDATE: Christoph Büchel's lawyer, Donn Zaretsky, posts this letter to MASS MoCA's lawyers on the always good reading The Art Law Blog.

____________________

I've been letting the Christoph Büchel vs. MASS MoCA brawl simmer on low in my brain for a few days, permitting my over-alcoholized mind to pour over the details to see if any part of the controversy would jump out and convince me Büchel intended to bust the budget of his massive installation in order to make an even larger point, but, alas, I'm still not sure. Here's how the Times summarized this conjecture:

Some people in the art world have suggested to him that Mr. Büchel might have purposely forced the exhibition to grind to a halt as the final act of the work itself — a literal demonstration of the kind of futility and absurdity that he seeks to communicate in the exhibition, with war, religion and the news media as his motifs.

It would not be the first time that Mr. Büchel has used his work to tweak the art establishment. In 2002 he sold his invitation to participate in Manifesta, an international art exhibition in Frankfurt, for $15,000 in an e-Bay auction to allow the winner to take his place.

[MASS MoCA Director Joseph C.] Thompson said he had no way to know whether Mr. Büchel’s actions might be part of an elaborate art stunt. “At times it’s certainly felt that way to me,” he said.

As with the speculation that Richard Prince's decision not to give permission to reproduce images of his earlier work in a catalog about those pieces was actually a carefully crafted statement underlining the sorts of questions about authorship his work has always been about, Mr. Büchel obviously cannot come out and say that this is a deliberate attempt to make a larger point without destroying it, so we're left guessing.

But this brings me back round to that thought by
Peter Schjeldahl we discussed earlier:


Artists of the Duchampian sort delighted in effacing the boundaries, which, with increasingly avid complicity on the authorities’ part, kept being redrawn to corral the effacements.
Indeed, if the idea an artist wants to express requires they take measures to ensure the authorities cannot redraw the boundaries to corral their efforts into the fold, these examples (the supposed motivations by Prince and Büchel) would seem the only means toward that end.

The problem with this, of course, is the rather biting relationship it sets up between the artist and the hand that had fed them (earlier collectors in Prince's case and the museum in Büchel's). Who will trust Büchel with a budget (without, at least, as
Modern Kicks points out, a very strong contract) in the future? And it can go beyond just the relationship between the artist and the art institutions, which one could argue should be happy to pay for the privilege of being in the center of such a clever ploy. As Lisa Ruyter pointed out on Artworld Salon Büchel had no qualms dragging an entire city (and a chunk of its money) into a highly suspect scheme to rid their public squares of "modern art":


Residents of Salzburg are this week voting whether to ban modern art.

Various pieces have annoyed locals so much that they are going to the polls to vote on whether to declare the city a "modern art free zone".

An upside-down helicopter that lies in the middle of a square in the historical baroque centre of the western Austria city has caused the most uproar.

Christoph Büchel, a Swiss artist, has been collecting an anti-modern art petition at a stall next to the artwork since it was installed during the Kontracom modern art festival in the summer.

He declared the pieces of modern art around the city "a blight on our cultural heritage".

2,000 signatures were collected, which is enough to trigger a referendum in the city. He handed the petition to the mayor in October, accompanied by local media reviews scathing the festival.

103,000 residents now have the chance to vote on a ban of modern art in public places until Saturday. Local authorities are now faced with the 40,000 Euro cost of running the referendum.
Which actually seems amusing (given that it's not MY 40,000 Euros the artist is tying up with what looks like a stunt), but might actually prove to be a crime if it became clear the intention was to use city funds and resources (which means the tax dollars of widows and such, if you want to spin it that way) for what amounts to a prank. Not that I don't see the point of such a prank. It's a brilliant concept and certainly supports my earlier dispute with Schjeldahl that Burden had pushed art to its ultimate limits. But, unlike Burden, whose work held serious risk truly only for himself, efforts that make a point at someone else's expense, whether art world insider or not, strike me as another matter.

We have the legal system to deal with any artist who truly abuses someone else, so I'm not calling for any changes, but I know how betrayed I would feel if an artist played me for a patsy in making a point, especially if it consumed resources I had set aside for some other artist's project, like Büchel is suspected of having done. Perhaps, if the prankster piece were brilliant enough, I'd eventually get over my anger and appreciate it, but that's putting a lot of pressure on its success.

Your thoughts?

Labels: ,

34 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

So complicated, I'm already bored by the Buchel afair. Perhaps someone with the stamina can turn this prank back on his in some way.

5/24/2007 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for this post, Ed. I read the article yesterday and was going to e-mail you about it, but I knew you’d be on top of it.

The larger issues were all covered in the article and in your post about it. But the little crawl that kept running through my mind was: There are so many good artists who are doing the kinds of large-scale installations Mass Moca shows—well, who are conceptualizing the installations but who don’t have the money to pull them off. What a waste that someone who is so financially supported would abuse the support.

Support for the arts is not a bottomless well. Yes, there are a few wealthy people who are driving the market up, as has been discussed here recently, but here on terra firma money for artists is still scarce. At the very least, this artist’s solipsistic, overweening, ego-driven prank/project/jerkoff diverted funds from an artist or artists who would have delivered. At the worst it will change the way institutions fund projects of this type.

I know it’s ridiculous--and I don't even do installations--but I take this kind of thing personally.

5/24/2007 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

Is Buchel an adjunct part of the Bush administration? Seems his actions mirror them pretty neatly.

5/24/2007 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

Mass MoCa is such a decent institution. Couldn't he have "set his example" exploiting something else, for example the new "Creation Museum" that just opened in Kentucky? He's giving artists a bad name.

5/24/2007 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at all the "work" first, always, what do you see?

Understand it?

Not good art overall, period.

Move on.

He fails as an artist.

Mass Moca did not look and think enough.

They are to blame.

Everything else are issues of incompetence.

I would have closed the show, take the loss and moved on.

That's curating. Deciding what is best at the moment.

(But, insiders tell me: Controversy keeps Mass Moca alive and in the art rags. The NYT photos are neat.)

mls

5/24/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It only becomes possible for a colicky arranger of jetsam to create this kind of trouble because Mass MoCA thought it would be a good idea to work with him. Artists should take this personally, because many thousands of artists could have turned a quarter million dollars into a space filled with decent art, and the museum disdained to work with them in favor of a grandiose nihlist.

5/24/2007 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

In general (and I myself am an artist), I think artists need to stop with the thinking we're the victims of every wrong. This is a case of one in our tribe abusing his power. Every institution is not out to screw us.

5/24/2007 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger hallwalls and elsewhere said...

Everyone's touch on it really well here. There's a sordid, distasteful texture to hearing about an artist abusing the kind of budget most artists will never enjoy in their entire careers.

5/24/2007 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

"...abusing the kind of budget most artists will never enjoy in their entire careers."
Thank you, hallwalls. Perfectly stated.

5/24/2007 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I see now the letter from Mr Zaretsky. It's possible -- let's say probable -- that Buchel has just ended his career. If he's lucky, history will consider this his Tilted Arc.

5/24/2007 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

I like his concept. It is time to show museums its narrow and established borders. Why not wasting this "little" money, when billions are wasted somewhere else, or 70.000.000 on certain Warhols, his actions are mirrors, pretty close to the uproar created by Duchamp's fountain, or not ? Where to hurt the frozen minds outside of money ? Maybe he is attacking money itself ?

5/24/2007 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ohhhh wow. All I can say is that you have people
posting on your blog who are complete idiots.
Why? because they slag off christoph buchel without
ever having experienced his work. In the variety of pathetic stupid posts above there is no mention of
buchel's last show in new york at the swiss institute
or his recent show at hauser and wirth coppermill
in london. Hey well let me tell you uninformed twits!
Christoph Buchel does amazing work. amazing.
the best show in london last year at the hauser and wirth coppermill space. ask anyone. booohoooo
the budget doubled. oh Im hurt. 150 to 300 grand.
who cares. when he is making incredible full tilt contemporary installations. Some of the people here have no idea what the are commenting on.
Have any of you even read the article talking about
him gathering materials from the local community? obviously not. what a bunch of idiots to be making all these claims without having any idea. lame. boring. uninformed.

5/24/2007 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Hey, Anonymous--
Show your face. It's easy to call people idiots when you hide behind a wall of anonymity. Who are you?
And you're not reading the posts. The reaction is not necessarily to Buchel's work but to his methods.

Am I alone here, or is anyone else tired of anonymous complainers? Got something to say? Own up to it.

5/24/2007 08:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Hey anonymouchel, maybe you're -- uhh, I mean -- maybe Buchel is a genius, but you're not -- uhh, I mean -- he's not helping his career by burning his bridges to those who can display his work. Maybe you should -- uhh, I mean -- maybe he should find a Werner Herzog to help channel his abundant energy.

5/24/2007 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger greg said...

As one of the local community members here in North Adams, home to Mass MoCA, some of what has been said here does not accurately portray MoCA. Mass MoCA is still a very young organization that operates on a tenuously tight budget that is only a fraction of that which supposedly "peer" institutions survive. $300K is *not* something that this organization can simply walk away from.

MoCA is not fully endowed. It's operating budget comes mostly from renting old industrial space on its campus to local white collar businesses. As museums go, MoCA still has a Mom and Pop feel to it.

In our region, and more specifically our tiny city, MoCA has a catalytic symbolism. Without it, North Adams would be years behind where we are now. The town would just be another rustbelt cast-off trying to survive. Instead, every child in this depressed city visits the museum several times a year and understands the role that art can play in a societal structure. (And yes, they get to make pretty projects, too. But that is not the main lesson.) The museum donates thousands of hours a year to community service and outreach. When you consider that fewer than 20,000 people live here and 1 in 4 households live below the poverty line, that is hugely significant.

And to get to one of Buchel's claims, that the museum overpaid for the various objects and their installation, I can only point out that most of the grunts doing the heavy lifting might make $10/hour and 100s of thousands of dollars worth of items were donated.

Buchel can stuff it.

But if you don't mind the 3-4 hour drive from NYC, check North Adams out. The stores all close too early and the old-time locals roll their eyes at "artists". But you'll never find a more relaxed and affordable arts oriented place within striking distance of the city. The beer is cheaper here too.

5/24/2007 09:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to anonymous 07:58:00 PM -

everyone does amazing work when they abandon their failures.

and yes, the budget doubled, but the artist still claims the work to be only half done.

5/24/2007 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/24/2007 10:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

+1 for North Adams. I was just there last week. Great town.

5/24/2007 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/24/2007 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger T said...

OT

I really enjoy your considered, informative and erudite arts commentary.

Alas, your "Impeach Bush" series is tiresome, ill-informed, juvenile and illogical invective, and proves the point that arts people should generally stay out of political commentary because they always end up showing themselves to be, well, tiresome, ill-informed, juvenile and illogical.

As a good turn from an admirer of yours from the other side of the political spectrum, and to help you along with your crusade, I thought I would point out that someone has now done all of the legal impeachment work for you. Have fun! Since you probably have no idea how Bush could have been elected twice, when you know nobody who voted for him, somebody should write to the Times about it...

5/25/2007 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger aurix said...

i read the article and was amused by it, although i must admit that if i were an employee of MassMOCA, i'd probably not be pleased with the situation.

5/25/2007 12:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think he makes great art. I don't agree. Period.

Furthermore, not all art is good for every museum and evidently this was a terrible match. I blame Mass Moca. This is political. A trap.

mls

5/25/2007 07:41:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

ml said...
Is Buchel an adjunct part of the Bush administration? Seems his actions mirror them pretty neatly.


This is exactly what the Buchel affair is about. Buchel is using a rhetoric of progressive revolution that has been completely co-opted by the Imperial Power and is therefore USELESS as an avant-garde strategy.

5/25/2007 09:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Suspected Homosexual said...

How ever you say it the whole affair is great theater and Mass MOCA could not have generated that much publicity for the institution and/or North Adams for the 300K spent. Personally, I am all for generating cash (and/or visitors to your institution) from trash. Buchel gave them just what they wanted; Creative Destruction (a financial term.) Congratulations to all involved.

5/25/2007 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

t -

I disagree with Ed periodically, but I never view his comments as illogical or juvenile. He is angry with the stupidity and ineptitude of this adminstration.

He's not alone. 70% of the people in this country disagree with Bush's policy in Iraq.

It isn't just artists who want the man out of the office before he escalates his legacy into Iran.

5/25/2007 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

T,

That's the lamest, most infantile list of strawmen arguments I've ever seen on the impeachment topic. The only one that comes close to being on the list of people serious about impeaching Bush is number 2 (the others are arguments for not liking Bush perhaps, but no one is suggesting they're impeachable offenses...perhaps you and that author should brush up on what constitutes a "crime"), and your hero neglects to point out that believing Iraq had WMD wasn't the threshold for invading it until Bush decided 9/11 provided him ample cover to do so with or with out UN approval. Until then, the standard for invading a sovereign nation had been imminent threat. No one, except Bush and his team, were in a position to measure the imminent threat in 2003, so we all, including the Democrats he mentions, were left having to take Bush's word on the matter. A matter he and his team consistently described as a heartbeat away from a mushroom cloud.

But that's beside the point. Even believing Bush misled the country into war, I held back calling for his impeachment until it became clear that he intentionally sought to break the law with regards to moving ahead with the domestic spying program over the objections of his own, very conservative, Attorney General. The Anchoress, rather tellingly, neglects to bray on about that little matter in the list.

Oh, and for the record, I blogged on politics for years before switching to art, and have been quoted by nearly every major political blog out there on my political opinions, so I'd be a bit more careful flinging around words like "ill-informed, juvenile and illogical" until you have at least an inkling of what you're talking about.

Seriously, do your homework. Look me up. Ask the folks at Obsidian Wings or even Red State if you like, what they think of my political opinions. Here, I'll help you: one of the regulars on RedState, Charles Bird, wrote this , just this week about my being banned on RedState, again (it's like the fourth time):

I didn't think you were banned, Edward. Just so you know, I defended you in the behind-the-curtain IM thread because you presented your positions civilly, but I'm in the minority there. The comment threads at RS generally suck, and the reason is that the moderators will tolerate only so much dissent from their party line.

Thanks for the kind words on the art writing, but just for the record, my street cred on political writing is alive and well.

5/25/2007 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Lisa Ruyter said...

I think to suggest that Buchel’s Salzburg piece is a crime is completely missing the point and totally absurd. It is locals that signed the referendum that led to the spending of city funds. Indeed, it is a high sport in Salzburg to attack public art projects, to the point where they will show up with heavy equipment to try to remove or cover works that they dislike without doing it through the proper channels (such as a Gelitin piece that they thought was obscene). It does not take much to figure this out either if you are an artist invited to participate in such a project there. What is wrong with an artist holding up a mirror to such a situation? He found a way to engage that particular situation that does not take away his power as an artist to make a mark and without compromising his autonomy to do what he wants to do. Not every artist has to be nice to everyone to get from one project to the next.

The way that I see the Mass MOCA situation, it is a problem that the institution has more interest to resolve than the artist, and they should take responsibility for that 100% and stop trying to get the artist to do it for them, because that is a losing battle. An artist’s biggest battle is for his/her integrity, and if an artist with projects like Buchel back down once, it creates bigger damage than you can imagine for future projects.

There are plenty of ways for an institution to deal with such a huge projects, but trying to go forward with an unfinished exhibition when there is such an impasse is not one of them. The first step is to accept some responsibilities for the position that they are in. If they are going to allow this fight into the public sphere, then I for one will always side with the artist, because this has further reaching consequences than could possibly be imagined. I don’t need to know the details to do so.

Whatever happened to institutions asking for help to finish a project when they have run out of money? Instead, when the project started to go over the budget, we started hearing twitters about the crazy artist spending their money rather than a call out for someone to help them realize this great project. If they don’t believe that the project is great enough to defend in its entirety, even in a crunch, then they should not be doing it in the first place. What, did Buchel have signing power on their bank account? Surely it is going to cost them much more to go to court and in other ways too than money, and we all better hope like hell that they have no success forcing an artist to show a work that is not complete or what they intended because of their mishandling of a budget.

You really think that this kind of thing hurts the artist more than the institution and the public?

5/26/2007 05:29:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think to suggest that Buchel’s Salzburg piece is a crime is completely missing the point and totally absurd.

There are two ideas in there. 1) is whether I get the point of the Salzburg piece (I think I do, I noted that it's a brilliant concept, designed, I assume to highlight the short-sightedness of the locals' response to contemporary art) and 2) whether if someone (say the Mayor, who called it "all a load of rubbish") discovered, via some later interview, that Büchel was intentionally using the referendum to make a point, decided to press charges to recoup the money. I'm not sure such a case would succeed, mind you, which is why I wrote "might actually prove to be a crime" but I don't think it's so inconceivable as to be "absurd" either.

What is wrong with an artist holding up a mirror to such a situation?

It's not the message I question, but the method.

My point was really that there are other things Salzburg could do with that 40,000 euros, and despite the fact 2000 citizens agreed with his referendum, had he not interjected himself into the debate, it's likely those funds would have gone to those other things instead of his art project. Indeed, there are too many questions this project raises about his methods that distract from his intended message, which is a weakness of the concept, in my opinion.

He found a way to engage that particular situation that does not take away his power as an artist to make a mark and without compromising his autonomy to do what he wants to do

Had he done so at his own expense, I'd be all for it as well. It's the idea that Salzburg should pay for the privilege of being a patsy that I have reservations about.

There are plenty of ways for an institution to deal with such a huge projects, but trying to go forward with an unfinished exhibition when there is such an impasse is not one of them.

Yes, I agree. I don't like the idea of exhibiting a work the artist's hasn't approved. It creates even more problems than the original situation. The only response, I feel, is for MASS MoCA to eat the expense and move on.

If they are going to allow this fight into the public sphere, then I for one will always side with the artist, because this has further reaching consequences than could possibly be imagined. I don’t need to know the details to do so.

What if the details infringed on your own copyrights? Or cost someone innocent their job? Or led to the cancellation of the next exhibition as well because the lost ticket sales of the first cancelled exhibition ate away at the available money?

Details are critical here.

Instead, when the project started to go over the budget, we started hearing twitters about the crazy artist spending their money rather than a call out for someone to help them realize this great project.

This is a fair criticism of MASS MoCA I believe.

If they don’t believe that the project is great enough to defend in its entirety, even in a crunch, then they should not be doing it in the first place.

Well, that might necessitate a bit of time travel and /or obligate an insititution to self-ruin taken to its logical conclusions. Surely, you can envision a situation in which an artist gets carried away and simply demands too much.

You really think that this kind of thing hurts the artist more than the institution and the public?

I'm not sure I understand that last question. Can you restate with specifics?

In general, I think there must have been a breakdown in the early communications about this project for this to have occured. However, it's pointless, in my opinion, to discuss this, as some are suggesting on other blogs and Donn, Christoph's lawyer, essentially agues for on her blog, without acknowledging Büchel's history of pranks and stunts, though. It's parallel, as noted above, to the position the current administration demands of the US public with regard to the corruption and cronyism and incompetence that defines them: Ignore that man behind the curtain!

The paradox for Büchel here is that if this was an intentional sabotage, then it succeeded, and he should be happy. If it wasn't, then the project failed, and I don't see why he doesn't share the responsibility for that (is he a child or a professional?).

5/26/2007 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Lisa Ruyter said...

To this: You really think that this kind of thing hurts the artist more than the institution and the public

You said: I'm not sure I understand that last question. Can you restate with specifics?__

I was responding to this thought:
Who will trust Büchel with a budget (without, at least, as Modern Kicks points out, a very strong contract) in the future?

I have a lot more faith in people who support artists I guess. And a little tired of those who want to measure the value of artists in money, and then expect artists to be as enamored of it as they are. I, for one, am attracted by the stand and risks he is taking.

And for the record, i have worked with 'difficult' artists on the production end with money out of my own pocket.

5/26/2007 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I have a lot more faith in people who support artists I guess. And a little tired of those who want to measure the value of artists in money, and then expect artists to be as enamored of it as they are. I, for one, am attracted by the stand and risks he is taking. And for the record, i have worked with 'difficult' artists on the production end with money out of my own pocket.

I'll put the amount of money I spend out of my own pocket (relative to my financial worth) to support artists up against anyone's in the world, Lisa. Please don't misinterpret my questioning the issues this episode raises as my measuring "the value of artists in money." That's incredibly insulting.

For the record, and more specifically, before I opened the gallery, I organzied, completely out of my own pocket, 5 exhibitions (four in New York and one in London) with a total of 30 emerging artists from 1999 to 2001, costing me somewhere near $80K total (yes, $80K of my own money), which was quite a bit more than I made in a year back then. So I don't take kindly to folks insinuating I'm some money-grubbing exploiter of artists.

Folks should be able to question the issues at hand here without automatically being labeled as "all about the money." I don't see the question of whether Christoph can be trusted with a budget as a question of money, but rather one of trust. I've read through the statements he's put out about where the museum failed (and I agree with 90% of what he says was their fault), but I don't see him taking any responsibility himself, which suggests he doesn't feel he has any, which in my experience is never the case (i.e., it's impossible for me to believe MASS MoCA is 100% responsible for the breakdown here).

5/26/2007 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous lisa ruyter said...

Edward,

I respect your points of view and have enjoyed your site very much for a long time. What i say is not meant as a personal attack on you. When i mention my support of artists, it is in response to the museum complaining about losing control of their budget, and not at all about you. unfortunately i have not lived in New York for some time and I honestly know little about what you (and other New Yorkers) do outside of this site and what i read elsewhere. I apologise if you took it personally.

5/26/2007 08:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's all this nonsense?

(I remember your shows Mr. EW. Good stuff. Those where the times...young and independent curators were so much better then....very different now. )

LOOK at all his work! The show IS the impasse between the artist and the institution and if completed ( paid in full by Mass Moca) then it is a testimony of institutional-world-politics criticism. All the press was factored in by the artist.

He should have told Mass Moca. Despicable. Mass Moca should have known that it was a possibility. What a waste of money and time. Summer(s) are the best months for the museum and town.

Write a letter Mr. Buchel, it is more effective, better art, and enviromentaly friendly. Macho jerk!

mls

5/26/2007 10:32:00 PM  
Anonymous jeff craig said...

lisa ruyter the painter
?

5/27/2007 02:03:00 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

I just read Buchel's 4-part statement on the Boston Globe's Exhibitionist blog, starting here and working backward: Buchel's Statement (Part 4). I have to admit he makes some interesting and seemingly important points. I'm looking forward to hearing all the facts as they come out of this unfolding story.

6/04/2007 06:24:00 PM  

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