Art and Commerce

Oh, we’ve got trouble with a capital T right here in River City…I mean, Beantown.  Art trouble, my friends.   I love when art trouble is on the front pages of our major newspaper.

The poster in this photo taken for my Driving to the Inauguration Series displays the poster, or a variation of it, that is now the subject of a lawsuit by AP against the artist, Shepard Fairey.

But, there’s been at least two art stories meriting front page status lately.

The first was the sudden announced closing of the Brandeis University Rose Museum and sale of it’s 300 million collection of first class contemporary art.  It is a small but rarely visited museum but a hidden gem to those of us with contemporary art tastes.

You would have thought they’d closed down McDonalds by the measure of the outcry heard from arty types and alumnae.  The museum had more visitors following this story than they’d ever had before.  The President of Brandeis joined in the contemporary phrase “I screwed up” recently heard by our very own US of A President on the matter of Tom Daschle’s withdrawl as a nominee.

It appears that the arty indignation and human outcry will save the museum and that is to the good, but, alas, no apology could save Tom Daschle from himself.

As an aside, I could have told President Obama that he wasn’t the best pick just based on sartorial clues.  The red round glasses for one.  But,  I also remember Mr. Daschle at the 9/11 concert for firefighters in NYC, the one where Hilary got booed, and he was dressed in a leather jacket outfit.  Huh? I remember saying to myself.   You are there representing the US Congress not the Rolling Stones.   And, it’s not casual Friday.  The smoke is still rising from Ground Zero.   Obama should have asked me and I would have told him to steer clear of Mr. Dandy.

Anywhooooo,  the second art story, and some are even questioning whether it is art, concerns the artist, Shepard Fairey.   His poster was installed in the Smithsonian the  week after the Inaugural because due to his knowledge of guerrilla marketing techniques, it became an iconic image of the campaign and was downloaded free from his site and hundreds of thousands of them were reproduced.

The problem now is that Associated Press is suing the artist for copyright infringement since Mr. Fairey freely admits he based his art on the photograph from an AP photographer (now no longer working for AP).  AP wants a bit of this iconic financial pie.

But, why is this front page news in Beantown?  Simple.  The museum I’ve written about before in this blog for giving me unforgettable experiences of contemporary artists–Anish Kapoor, Tara Donovan– to name just two of recent memory– this same museum, The Institute of Contemporary Art, is opening a large exhibit of Mr. Fairey’s work this week.

This is his first exhibit in a museum.  The curator has been busy defending his choice as there are widespread accusations from others in the art world that Mr. Fairey regularly uses other artists’ work without attribution.  There are other stories saying he’s sent cease and desist letters to other artists who have “knocked off” his work in their own.  On an on it goes.  The world of art is as messy and petty as any other world but rarely can you read about it in your metropolitan daily.

The artist himself has been interviewed by all the TV outlets while plastering his art on various streets around Boston, but this time, with permission.  He also very proudly says he’s been arrested 14 times in his life apparently due to putting up his art where he does not have permission.

He is called “a street artist” and has a commercial art presence in well known magazines.

So, it’s been fun reading, but today, February 7, 2009–today,  it became really, really fun reading.  On the way to the opening evening event of his exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art, he was arrested for charges that are not yet known!!

Oh, my.  I can hardly contain myself.  This is just too fabulous.  The Senate agreement on the 800 billion stimulus package may be the most important story of the day but I’m checking every half hour on updates for our artist in residence at the Boston Police Station.

Of course, the word is that he staged it!!

Stay tuned.  I actually was going to go the museum today to see the exhibit not because I particularly like what I’ve seen of his work but because I always go and at least try to appreciate why a particular artist was deemed important enough to be exhibited.  But, after seeing this story, I  decided to wait and go to the Rose Museum instead!!  The masses will be traveling in herds over to the ICA and this will leave me all by myself at the Rose Museum which is how it has always been before it became front page news!

©Pat Coakley 2009


5 comments on “Art and Commerce”

  1. brilliant. i didnt know the update on the Rose, so they are not closing it after all? i’ll have to check it out, amazing. Mr. Fairey is sure an upstart, i rather like the iconic clasm of it, traditional american poster art, like rosie the riveter no pun intended, but he has the theatro-politic which seems to draw attention to issues, like this whole copyright thing, at a time when Congress has passed 1st few stages of new copyright law (the Orphan Act)
    which i think is a big mistake and have been writing to everyone I can about what it will mean to designers, painters, musicians, writers, etc etc etc who work full time and generate prolific works (we will have to pay a fee to register every work or it becomes an ‘orphan’ thus loses copyright protection and can be used by anyone in the pubic domain w/no recompense to the artist). does this mean that we will have to change the way we think about what belongs to us? does it mean that the doing of creative work and the individual artist no longer has a viable place in the world of respectful occupations? do we ask of everyone now to submit to the agenda that directs focus toward the collective over the individual, i dont know, maybe it does. besides that what artist except those already entrenched can afford to pay those fees?it sure makes the occupation seem empty of benefit.

  2. I guess that AP hasn’t heard of “post modedernist appropriation”. Lawyers and accountants are ruining this world. A curse on their black little hearts!

  3. Tipota, thanks (once again) for this thoughtful response. I went back and read the “revised” comments of the President of Brandeis and unfortunately, it still appears that The Rose will close and the contents sold. He essentially apologized for his communication skills not the content of his message. They are going to have a battle royal on their hands from donors of this art work who did not give it to the museum only to be sold off. But, for the viewing public, it looks to be over by summer. I did not know about this “orphan” act!! Honestly, that truly does sound punishing to artists to have to come up with the copyright fee each time they create something!!

    Razz, those black little hearts, in this case, AP, are in financial trouble themselves to begin with, having nothing to do with the artist but in the world-wide shift in newspapers and journalism to the web. They also, from what I understand, have a history of not dealing well with ‘new media” issues. But, having said that, there is an issue here, I just don’t know whether the legal system can add light or simply more heat.

    From the sound of Tipota’s comment and the orphan act…an artist’s work is headed toward the maul of primordial creative ooze. On the one hand, I understand derivative work, but totally original work I get, too. It is an ongoing, fascinating question.

  4. I like this shot especially well. It’s colourful, conveys excitement, and there is no question as to what the excitement is about. Brilliant!

  5. Greetings, S.Le, There has been alot of excitement in Boston post-inauguration as well! I read yesterday where the artist is now suing AP! Battle stations, everyone.

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