Monday, October 01, 2007

"What remains of the work mimics nothing so much as a miniature golf course or the median of a shopping mall"

In today's Wall Street Journal, Kelly Crow reports on another VARA controversy, this one involving Yahoo and the artist Sharon Louden. Seems that, in 2001, Louden's "Reflecting Tips, 2001" was installed on the front lawn of the company's Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters, pairing "real wetlands grass with artificial cattail-like reeds." When the grass recently grew too high, Yahoo sent in a grounds crew to cut it down -- and they ended up damaging the work ("Nearly half of the wires were severed in the process."). It's unclear, but it sounds like there may have been previous damage as well, unrelated to this bout of weed-whacking ("Over the years, other wires had become bent to the ground or twisted into shapes."). Then, last spring:

"Yahoo tore up the lawn. On April 24, Yahoo's legal director, Tad Ravazzini, emailed Ms. Louden's dealer and her lawyer photographs of what they called the 'improved site,' which showed closely mowed green grass where the sedge had been, plus a new border of perennial flowers. ... The artist howled. Mr. Kamm, the dealer, called his lawyer. ... 'What remains of the work,' lawyer John Cahill wrote on April 30, 'mimics nothing so much as a miniature golf course or the median of a shopping mall's parking lot.'"

In a May 14 letter, Cahill "accused Yahoo of breaching its agreement with the artist and violating a number of laws," including VARA. Yahoo responded that it was "'willing to dedicate reasonable resources' to working with Ms. Louden to improve the site," but talks apparently stalled over the summer, and remain stalled today.

I'd be interested to see how the contract dealt with these issues. I'm assuming the surrounding weeds were not included as part of the definition of the work. But did the contract include any specifications about the surrounding site? Sometimes public art contracts provide that the artist gets to approve any proposed alteration of the site "that would affect the intended character and appearance of the work." Is there anything like that here?