Tyler Green
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Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Bronson: I have legal right to remove my work

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In an email sent today to National Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan and carbon-copied to the show’s curators, the director of the National Gallery of Canada, MAN and to other journalists, artist AA Bronson asserts that he has the legal right to remove his Felix, June 5, 1994 [right] from “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” which is on view at the NPG. (The piece is in the collection of the NGC.) For much of the last week Bronson has been trying to remove it as a protest against the Smithsonian Institution’s deletion of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition.

Here’s Bronson’s email, in its entirety:

My lawyer suggests that, according to my moral rights under copyright law in both Canada and the USA, I have the right to withdraw my work from Hide/Seek. Please remove my work from the exhibition immediately.

The NPG told MAN last week that it would not remove the work. Prior to that announcement, I did a Q&A with Bronson.

I have asked the NPG for comment on Bronson’s latest email. I will update this post as events warrant.

UPDATE: The NPG told Kate Taylor at the NYT that it would not take down the work.

UPDATE2: The NPG and SI have put out a press release saying the work stays up. The press release also says that: “The Portrait Gallery has invited Bronson to make a formal statement of his views, which would be installed next to his work for visitors to see, together with other public comments… Bronson has been invited to be a speaker at a symposium on “Hide/Seek” at the Portrait Gallery scheduled for Jan. 29, 2011; details of the symposium’s schedule will be announced at a later time.”

UPDATE3: Last night Bronson replied via an email addressed to me and sent to to the NPG, NGC, assorted journalists and curators: “Thanks for the copy of this press release… the National Portrait Gallery did not send it to me. They also have never sent me the catalog to the exhibition.

Martin Sullivan has invited me to participate in a panel discussion at the NPG. However, I will be installing my retrospective exhibition “Haute Glamour: General Idea” at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris at that time, and will be out of the country. My exhibition in Paris opens February 10th.”

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Comments

  1. I have worked with special exhibitions for over 15 years at large and small museums, and I cannot imagine a scenario whereby an artist, who has no title to the work, can demand that it be removed due to a disagreement with actions taken by the museum. The only situation where it might be warranted would be if the safety or condition of the work were at risk.

    From a legal standpoint, this issue is black and white. Your reporting has not led me to believe that any other avenues exist for the artist. In fact, I’m suprised it is even being discussed given that his unreasonable request does nothing but bring him more attention.

  2. Bronson’s request based on his moral rights may be untested or even unlikely, but that certainly not mean the issue is “black and white.”

    Canada recognizes an artist’s moral rights over his work, which can include a say in how that work is displayed. And in the US, VARA protects the artist’s “honor and reputation” in the event his work is “distorted.” Whether the context of censorship at the NPG is sufficient to constitute “distortion” is debatable. But that’s what court is for.

    I’d expect that especially when the issue is censorship of a long-invisible/ignored population, a museum professional would not be one arguing for the preemptive silencing of a promi.nent living artist

  3. Dear tda,

    I find your comment extremely cynical. Do you really mean to suggest that an artist’s own wishes don’t matter in the least? Artist’s works are just things that can be used and manipulated according to the wishes of the user? Case closed? End of story?

    I have worked for over 10 years in the curatorial department of a major contemporary art museum, where, I’m proud to say, the artist’s wishes are *always* considered — because it’s the right things to do, even if the museum is not legally obliged. Museums who show contemporary art are *nothing* without the support of artists. It is truly reprehensible to force an artist to show in a situation he finds morally compromising. How ironic is it that the Wojnarowicz gets removed hastily on so-called “moral grounds,” without public dialogue (other than after the fact), but an artist who actually wishes to remove his own work on moral grounds can’t make that happen? So, tda, only the censors get to say what works are removed? Those who created it have no say? Wow. Hope we never work together.

    And your insinuation that the artist is doing this to get attention is does not even merit a response.

  4. Even if there were a strong legal support and precedent for Bronson’s request there is really no way TPG would take the picture down. Institutions generally don’t let themselves get pushed around by one outraged person, artist or not.

    And Lisa, you’ll notice Bronson responded by sending out a mass email plugging his upcoming show. Don’t be so shocked. Artists who don’t hustle don’t eat.

  5. Thomas skribis: “Institutions generally don’t let themselves get pushed around by one outraged person, artist or not.” Unless of course that person can hide behind some bogus religious organization…

  6. The history of artists attempting to subvert institutions and funders attempting to manipulate institutions is long and ugly.

    A good crash course would be looking at MoMA’s 1968 exhibition titled The Machine, which brought to life the Art Workers Collation.

    Mr. Bronson’s efforts are pretty typical and transparently self-serving. He’s got no legal ground to stand on and his moral outrage is tempered by his obvious desire to prime his market. The attempt to remove his work is silly, it only serves to further water down a show that in all honesty only was marginally changed by the removal of the Wojnarowicz work to begin with, which itself has already been marginalized by being edited. I’m not saying I’m good with the NPG’s removal of the Wojnarowicz work, political manipulation for partisan headlines, but I am saying removing more work from the show is a poor means of retaliation and proves that curating a show can be be manipulated by people with both bad intent and good.

    For a history of funders one only needs to look at the 70s and 80s works of Hans Haacke.

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