Monday, December 20, 2010

A Smithsonian Footnote (UPDATED)

I haven't written about the Smithsonian controversy because it isn't really a legal dispute, but here's a small legal angle: last week artist AA Bronson asked the museum to remove his work from the show in protest. They refused. Today he follows up with an email saying:

"My lawyer suggests that, according to my moral rights under copyright law in both Canada and the U.S.A., I have the right to withdraw my work from ‘Hide/Seek.'"

I don't know anything about Canadian moral rights law (or why it would apply to an exhibition in Washington), but under U.S. law, the obvious stumbling block is VARA's "public presentation" exception ("The modification of a work of visual art which is the result of ... the public presentation, including lighting and placement, of the work is not a destruction, distortion, mutilation, or other modification" under the statute).

UPDATE: Sergio agrees: "We’re not sure about the Canadian moral rights law, but it does not seem to us that under the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act the NPG would be violating Bronson’s moral rights simply by exhibiting the work within a context and/or exhibition that Bronson did not like or approve of. If this were the case, artists could dictate–and ironically–censor the speech of individuals whom they did not identify with ideologically. Interesting move though."