In the days after the court handed down its decision in the case of Bert Kreuk vs Danh Vo and Isabella Bortolozzi, both sides issued formal statements to the press. Since then, Bortolozzi and Vo have appealed the decision, which called for Vo to produce the artwork Kreuk maintained he had promised to create in 2013 on commission. According to Bortolozzi, the court’s verdict infringes on the creative autonomy of the artist. According to Kreuk, it simply requires him to keep to an agreement. I asked Kreuk for some final thoughts about the case, which has garnered significant international attention. (Efforts to reach Mr. Vo for a statement were unsuccessful.)
Abigail R. Esman :Now that the legal conflict seems to be resolved, are you still a fan of Vo’s work, overall? Or has this experience made you feel differently about it?
Bert Kreuk: I have a collection of about 800 works, mainly modern and contemporary. Each artist in my collection is selected based on the ability and ambition to convey an authentic idea or concept. I must have the feeling that each work is made with the right artistic intention. Unfortunately, when that idea is violated, this idealistic meaning of the conceptual practice becomes irrelevant to me. At that stage the artist in my opinion has disqualified himself as someone capable of making sincere, authentic and true art. And the work will lose any emotional value to me because of it.
So for this particular work, its sense and meaning lie more in the way it came about, in my narrative plus whatever he will attach to it — and as such I can bear to stand it. But this will be the last work I wll ever buy from him.
Vo has said he will appeal the decision. What are your thoughts about this? And would an appeal in any way affect the deadline for him to produce the work?
BK: When you do not like the court ruling, you should have respected the agreement in the first place. But whether it will affect the deadline to produce the work, will be part of the judicial process, which we all have to respect. At least I will respect it. He has a year to make new work; given my knowledge of how quickly he can produce work, this should give him plenty enough time.
He also claims that his “artistic integrity” is compromised by the requirements that the work be “large” and “impressive.” But wasn’t that the agreement originally — that it be “large”? Shouldn’t someone who commissions a work be permitted to determine if the piece meets the expectations and description of the commission? Or should an artist have complete discretion when it comes even to a commissioned work, and even to the quality of that work? What are your thoughts on this?
This is a very good question — you are the first to pick up on the words “large” and “impressive.” As a matter of fact the guidelines set by the courts are the same as the guidelines Danh Vo and I agreed on back in 2013. Nothing has changed. When your “artistic intergrity” allowed you to make the work back in 2013 along the same guidelines now reconfirmed by the courts, you should be able to do the same in 2015. This will still leave the artist his freedom and gives him more than ample time to finish. For that reason I believe the court specifically refers back to the same room 38, which he originally selected for the work back in 2013.
A commissioned work, by definition, has its limitations — space for instance. It is always an interaction between client, with the curator if there is one, and the artist, and one based on trust and respect. If an artist does not feel good about its guidelines then he or she should not accept the commission. I never dictated to Vo what to make. In our conversation we talked about what intrigued and appealed to me in his work and that is what I conveyed. I thought we had a frank discussion at the time; at least we agreed together that the commissioned work would be impressive and space filling. He talked about the idea of hanging large gold gilded carton boxes from the ceiling, which had an open skylight which would reflect the light impressively onto the boxes. We talked about the American Flag theme and Beer boxes. Never ever did we discuss (nor did I agree as collector or curator for the show) on some kind of minimalist gesture type of artwork. This was not the reason why he selected one of the largest rooms in the entire exhibition in the first place. I would not have given this space to him if he would not have agreed basically on a
“large and impressive” installation, because I would have given it to another artist. How he would fulfill the commission was of course up to him. It is his inspiration and that was the reason for his visit to see the space.
We should also not forget that there are two thick files of communication between me and the gallery and Vo about the commissioned work and the guidelines. The court also ruled he should talk with me about the work, just like we did in 2013. I am ready for that dialogue and will completely honor the court’s ruling. As a matter of fact I stand ready to address any issue of Danh Vo relating to “artistic integrity” in this ruling and the making of the commission. It is unfortunate that after costly and prolonged litigation we are back in January 2013.
Artnet (and others) have referred to you in the course of this trial as an “art flipper.” Can you address this? Is it your plan to put the work on the market once it’s completed?
Convenient interpretations of the ruling always lead to a muddied picture. It is totally irrelevant to distract from the merits of this case by accusing me of art flipping. Beyond which, before you call somebody an “art flipper,” you need to know how that person collects and how he manages the collection. Besides, I have always been open about the fact that I sell works from the collection – so if because of that you want to call me an “art flipper,” so be it.
That said, to label somebody an “art flipper” apparently is also to try to discredit him as a serious collector But everything exists within a context. As an active collector I collect a lot. Sometimes I make mistakes and correct them. My contemporary collection is not stagnant; contemporary art is made every day. I am constantly making choices as part of refining the collection, which is my vision.
Now, in this case, following this rulling, it remains to be seen what Danh Vo is going to make. The court ruled that he should be in contact with me about the installation piece and that each of us should behave professionally. I am certainly willing to do that. If Vo acts in good faith, something good can come from this. But I will put no limitations on what I am going to do with the work. Of course it will go to the collection as was my intention two years ago. But as I have said over and over, my lawsuit was driven by principle, never monetary gain; so I may in the end decide (once it is in the collection) to simply donate the work to a public institution. The same applies to any court compensations I might receive — all will be used for good causes, like cultural educational programs for children, for instance, or causes preserving Dutch history and culture.
Can you imagine this having happened with a lesser-known artist? Doesn’t the very fact that this ended up in the courts say something about the market today?
I simply cannot imagine this happening with a lesser-known artist — or, for that matter, with another well-known artist. This is the first time it happened for me in 20 years anyway.
But the reality is also that in 2013 I would not have given the whole space, which Danh Vo requested and got, to a lesser-known artist. It was one of the largest and most important rooms and the only one with a skylight in the entire exhibition. To give that up you at least expect the “well-known”artist to perform as agreed. As I have said before, suing an arist is a very, very tough decision, not taken lightly. It was his default as well as what happened subsequently that upset me in this case, then during the proceeding, so many inconsistent excuses and distractions. There was never a “sorry Bert we have a problem,” or “lets talk about the situation.”
But everybody makes mistakes in their lives, so if Danh Vo wants to sit down I will accept that. And when everybody acts professionally and reasonably, I am sure a solution can be reached rather quickly. I am not a resentful person, but they should not test my persistence because I am a very determined person.
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