1. Why did MASS MoCA file a lawsuit against Christoph BĂĽchel?
Training Ground for Democracy, a large-scale installation intended for MASS MoCAâ€™s football-field-sized Building 5 gallery, was scheduled to open on December 16, 2007 and originally budgeted at $160,000. Work was begun on the installation by the artist Christoph BĂĽchel, but he later abandoned the piece. To encourage Mr. BĂĽchel to finish the work, MASS MoCA extended the installation time from six weeks to more than three months, provided nearly twice the budgeted funds (over $300,000), and then offered an additional $100,000 to finish the work. Despite this, the artist refused to complete the piece. MASS MoCA offered him the opportunity to remove the materials, reimbursing the museum for their actual cost, which he also refused. MASS MoCA was therefore left with no option other than to go to court to determine what MASS MoCAâ€™s and Mr. BĂĽchelâ€™s rights are with respect to the display and/or disposal of the materials abandoned in the galleries.
2. Have you opened Training Ground in the meantime?
No. The front door to the gallery is locked, the exhibition is cancelled. To permit access to an exhibition in a gallery behind the space where Training Ground is located, we have opened a side entrance, and blocked physical and visual access to the materials assembled for Training Ground.
3. Would MASS MoCA like the artist to complete the installation? Could the artist come and take the materials away?
We offered Mr. BĂĽchel multiple opportunities to complete the installation, and provided significant additional funding to finish the project. On numerous occasions, we also offered Mr. BĂĽchel the opportunity to remove all or part of the materials and partial constructions that had been assembled (reimbursing the museum for its actual costs incurred in procuring the materials.) Thus far, he has refused to remove the materials and partial constructions or to complete the installation, or even provide clear guidance as to how the materials should be removed and dispersed. Faced with this impasse, MASS MoCA asked the courts to provide guidance on how MASS MoCA could move forward.
4. Why did MASS MoCA want to open the gallery if Mr. BĂĽchel refused to complete the installation?
It is a core part of MASS MoCAâ€™s mission to show how art works are fabricated and rehearsed in our facility and to exhibit pieces in various stages of completion. MASS MoCA is often referred to as an open research and development platform for the arts, and process-oriented â€śworkshopâ€ť showings are an important part of the programming we present. We have asked the court to provide guidance on MASS MoCAâ€™s opportunities and rights to do so in this case.
5. Did MASS MoCA have an agreement with the artist?
Yes. Our agreement with BĂĽchel is similar to (and in some respects even more specific than) the agreements we have had with nearly all of the artists we have worked with over the past 12 years â€“ agreements that have produced some 65 important new works of visual art. We had an agreement with Mr. BĂĽchel regarding the budget, the time, and material resources available for fabrication and installation, the opening and closing dates of the show, and the general scope and scale of the joint effort. Big fabrication projects are in effect artists-in-residencies: we agree to provide a certain amount of time, artist housing, and human and material resources to create a new work that will be on view in a certain space, for a certain amount of time.
6. Why does MASS MoCA think it has the right to show the materials?
We are not asserting that we should be allowed to decide, unilaterally, that the materials and partial constructions in Building 5 should be shown to the public. Indeed, that is the very point of our appeal to the court. We offered the artist the opportunity to complete the installation and the opportunity to remove and retrieve the materials assembled. Because Mr. BĂĽchel did not accept any of these offers, MASS MoCA was left with no choice but to seek a declaration of its and Mr. BĂĽchelâ€™s rights from the court. Pending the courtâ€™s decisiont, we took reasonable efforts to limit physical and visual access to the materials while allowing access to our other gallery/galleries.
7. Is MASS MoCA trying to recover money from the artist?
The only relief we have sought was a clear declaration of the partiesâ€™ rights, and a decision from the court that would allow MASS MoCA to move forward. Mr. BĂĽchel, on the other hand, has asserted a number of counterclaims against MASS MoCA seeking to compel the museum to pay him monetary damages. He has made these counterclaims notwithstanding the fact that we are a nonprofit museum, and that we have already expended over twice our original financial commitment to the project. Mr. BĂĽchel has also made and sold or attempted to sell certain art works incorporating court filings from this dispute.
8. Could MASS MoCAâ€™s action inadvertently weaken the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990?
As an institution that actively collaborates with artists, we strongly support the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”), which addresses the intentional distortion, mutilation or modification of works of visual art. VARA does not address the display of unfinished work or the display of materials assembled for use in a work of art and we have carefully framed and limited our case to avoid any negative consequences to VARA.
9. If an artist works with others to create an artwork and believes the results are not consistent with his or her intentions, can the artist sue under copyright law or VARA?
We recognize that artists who rely on others to help realize their work could have disputes with those persons regarding whether the work was consistent with the artist’s ultimate intentions and hopes. Indeed, those discussionsâ€“sometimes heatedâ€“ happen frequently when complex works of art are brought into being, hence the term â€śworks in progress.â€ť However, those disputes are not disputes about the artist’s copyright or rights under VARA and it would be chilling to the creative process to make them so. People who try to help artists realize their designs are not committing copyright infringement even if the artist is not pleased with the work product as it takes shape.
10. Was the art supposed to be the controversial stalemate itselfâ€”is this some sort of big ruse, or a work of conceptual art presented in the form of a legal quagmire?
We were certainly not acting on that premise when we assembled the materials and began our collaboration with Mr. BĂĽchel.