Can an artist disown a work he or she has made and sold? If so, can the artist use the threat of disownment as, uh, leverage? These are the knotty questions in a Laura Gilbert article for The Art Newspaper. Case in point is Richard Serra’s large oilstick drawing, The United States Government Destroys Art (above), made in 1989 and now owned by the Broad Foundation. It’s one of the drawings that Serra extensively reworked for his 2011 Met show. Curator Magdalena Dabrowski suggested that it be shown with the double date of 1989 and 2011. Serra said no, and that was that. In a talk Dabrowski charged that Serra had threatened to remove the work, not only from the Met show but from the Broad collection, unless it was shown as he wanted. Serra may indeed have had legal grounds for that position in the Visual Artists Rights Act.
Sure—but would Serra actually repossess a work from a major collector?
“Serra denies saying he would withdraw the work from the Broad collection. ‘If a work is damaged and the surface is anonymous and the client agrees, I restore it,’ he says. Asked if he would have disclaimed the drawing if the Broads had not agreed, Serra would only say: That’s hypothetical.’”
Eli Broad is living the hypothesis. He lives in a Frank Gehry home that the architect disowned.