Sunday, February 25, 2007

Who owns art?

The excellent newsgrist has several articles about appropriation and the issues related authorship.
So who does own art?
And what is art ownership about? Only in the simplest of all versions is it about owning an object. The thing is, it has been increasingly clear that ownership is one of the most delicate - and taboo - issues of contemporary art. Yes, we have the art market which helps us keep it all together. But the fragility of the system is impressive.
Once you get to Manzoni's Artist's Shit, and keep on going all the way to Cattelan's provocations, something strange happens: not only is the value of the work conventional, but the convention can change quite abruptly. In the case of Manzoni's work, we still have an object. But the further we go into the conceptual & performative realms, the more difficult it is to speak of ownership. After all, how can one own Yves Klein's emptiness?
If art is intellectual property, then what about the image of the work? Is it mimesis? Or a copy of the thing, i.e., a sub-product of the original work? How different is my picture of something from that thing? We often assume it's close - possibly because it's simpler this way. A reproduction is another example of production. But then, what can be reproduced?
If the question is old, new technologies seem to give it a reality bite. We are all photographers. Reproduction is so easy, it seems impossible to judge it by the same strict rules. The tiny video cameras and cell phones make it all-too-easy to take a piece of the world with you.
There's the rub: we somehow feel taking a picture is taking a piece of the world. Reproduction is re-production. Are we therefore constantly stealing the world away? Doesn't that seem a bit naive? Isn't the problem rather in the authorship, and ownership? That is what is happening: by taking the picture of a picture, we are re-apropriating it. Its original value, given by the convention of authorship ('it came out of the head of this person') and ownership ('it belongs to that person'), is questioned. Or maybe rather, challenged, since we can easily imagine someone acknowledging the copyright and taking care of all the related formal issues. (see this article about copyright and contemporary art). There are several issues here. One of them is the question of what exactly constitutes a work of art. If my work includes someone else's work, or copies it, is it a simple legal issue for me to regulate? What if I somehow took the same picture as someone else? Contrary to Joy Garnett, I do believe this can be a serious issue and is not about the public space being public domain. The image, even if it is "just a photo", is still a work. And the difficulty seems to be in acknoledging it every time, that is, even if we just happen to bump into the same view as someone else. Is it a question of recognition? It seems it simply stopped making sense to acknowledge every single picture taken from somewhere else, every picture of a picture of a screenshot of a security camera... But what is the alternative?

What complicates this is that some contemporary art already focuses on challenging the idea of authorship and ownership. That's where the really strange paradoxes appear. That's where one can very well own an 'original' that was made as a questioning of the idea of the original, where the remains of a performance that was a statement for the ephemeral gain the status of permanent art value, etc.etc.
We might be used to this, but there is something incredibly hypocritical about our easy acceptance of it. Why shouldn't we consider that a work of art can actually have a self-eliminating value, that is, have its value limited to an experience that excludes any form of later valuing. This could mean the creation of an exhibition of works not for sale, but it could also mean acknowledging all the works that have been created, often by celebrated and expensive artists, into the void. Such as Gordon Matta-Clark's public, 'illegal' works. They fascinate us today precisely because they seemed destined to disappear, challenging the very idea of an object of value.
Another way of seeing this is attacking (yet again) the very notion of copyright by exposing it to the test of the world. Do we really live our lives in a way that makes room for copyright? Or is it just so out of date that it would need a serious rethinking? See the iMoma, where pictures from the New York MOMA are published. Those are illegally taken pictures, pictures of the visitors, pictures that make the ownership of art-as-image problematic, to say the least. And the officials trying to fight this 'crime wave' seem like ridiculous bureaucrats. But on the other hand - what are they supposed to do? Let it go? And what remains?
Read the story about the iMoma and the image pirates issue at Newsgrist.

Bruce Nauman, Human/Need/Desire (currently at the MOMA)


Theyvith said...

I would like open a Manzoni's shit. Hahaha. How money does it cost? Mmm Artist's Caviar!!
Well, a little bit iconoclastic but the ask you do is very interesting. I was reading a lot about... Heidegger, Derrida, Aristotle, Hegel... It was turning me crazy. Digital crashes all previous concept so I'm thinking that phisical/traditional art is kind of word-tool. (Some antrophologists think that the depelopement of tools and lenguage were at same time). The meaning of a tool is change the world, the meaning of the word is speak about it.

What i think about taking photos in museums?
Our culture is visual, we have learned to make a extension of ourselves with cameras. Don't allow it is a crime... So what they want? Money! Art is not a movie uploaded in a web. Photo is not matter -a individual sense of it-, photo is another people experience that speaks about something. If you want to make a commertial profit is other history.

It make me think about Medical Corporations that patents human gens.

Congratulations, very good web blog.

My english is very poor. Sad!

Anonymous said...

In terms of law, if you take a photograph of something, you own the copyright to your photo, whereas the thing you shot exists out there, in the world, regardless of the photo. It's not yours. Anyone else has the "right" to photograph it. Or paint it. or whatever. Of course, that doesn't prevent naive people -- including some photographers and artists -- from thinking they "own" the subject or content of their pic. It doesn't prevent them from bullying others who want to take a shot. But the fact is, they have no right to do so; not in the eyes of the law, not "ethically" either, and certainly they are naive or just ignorant about art. art is about interchange, conventions, copying, and one-upmanship. read your art history 101. Vasari. etc. People today are wrongly obsessed with property... it's really pathetic, eh?

Hans said...

Very interesting reading vvoi. The ownership is immaterial and belongs to the artist. Once released its open for improvement,revalue and change in our brains and minds and it asks to be copied and changed if it is fascinating. It is a part of a bigger image that gets regrouped all the time like letters forming different texts, maybe.

Kevin Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Clarke said...

Check out Jordan Kantor's Show at Ratio 3 in San Francisco. He's all about appropriation/mimesis.

I "own" a venue called The Small Gallery. I'm interested in fetishizations of style and how ideas become comodified art "objects". How does a performance become an object? I explored that with Biba Bell:Gallery Girl

The Small Gallery critiques the gallery concept. The absurdly small venue asks: “What is a gallery besides a room with a title?” The Small Gallery is small, which is not to be confused with miniature. The baseboards and the floorboards are normal size for a room; it is just the size of the room that has been reduced. I am attempting to exaggerate the fethishization of a physical space and all of the status attributed to its gallery signifier so that both artist and curator can produce shows for white walls as well as utilize it as an institution for critiquing. Its gallery-ness has reverence and disdain for itself. Placed on the sidewalk outside established blue-chip galleries, The Small Gallery is both conservative and oppositional, elitist and populist.
As both a functional venue and art object, with me also serving as curator, The Small Gallery blurs the line between gallerist and artist. The viewer participates in a confused adoration for gallery-ness by walking up a set of wooden blocks, thereby elevating him or herself off the ground, then looks down upon the art within the room. This process of climbing up in order to peer down into the gallery simultaneously honors and condescends upon the venue. It is when there is an institutional critique within this physical manifestation of Institutional Critique that the duality of acts becomes part of a dynamic appropriation-mimesis continuum. Paradoxically this both concretizes and dilutes the “style” of Institutional Critique. One of the questions I hope I am interested in is: how does a second-generation simulacrum transfer meaning and mutate in each manifestation? For example, what if I, in ‘Andrea Fraser style’ art speak, critiqued a performance by Andrea Fraser?

I saw a lecture last year by an artist who made paintings of space from movies like 2001, star trek and Star Wars. He also made a painting of a landscape 'view' and placed an action figure with a camera a couple feet in front of the canvas. The Action figure had a camera, his back was to us and he was taking a picture of the view. Viewers viewing a viewer taking a picture of the view. I heard a critic tell him he wears his mediation on his sleeve and something happened to me.
I let out a breath I had been holding since 1995. I am both tired of the medium being the message, and drawn to each different persons simulacra soufflé. I still want to see layers upon layers of re-production and re-presentation but don't want it to be the subject. I'm rambling now. it's 3:30 a.m.
this is a great Blog! Thanks for doing it!

loon san said...

excellent post mr. ;D

Anonymous said...

great subject: Who owns art? In Australia best contemporary art has been appropriated for many years....

Stacey said...

This is even more interesting in the area of primitive art and artifacts. We know the cultures "own" it, but they no longer exist (at least not in the same manner they exited at one time in the distant past). Shouldn't we be able to own it? Share it and care for it?

Tribal Art Hunter | Professional Art Consulting and Buying


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