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