FAQ re: Training Ground

1. Why did MASS MoCA file a lawsuit against Christoph BĂĽchel?
Training Ground for Democracy, a large-scale installation intended for MASS MoCA’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 Büchel, but he later abandoned the piece. To encourage Mr. Büchel 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 MoCA’s and Mr. Büchel’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 MoCA’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 “workshop” showings are an important part of the programming we present. We have asked the court to provide guidance on MASS MoCA’s opportunities and rights to do so in this case.

5. Did MASS MoCA have an agreement with the artist?
Yes. Our agreement with Büchel 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 – agreements that have produced some 65 important new works of visual art. We had an agreement with Mr. Büchel 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. Büchel did not accept any of these offers, MASS MoCA was left with no choice but to seek a declaration of its and Mr. Büchel’s rights from the court. Pending the court’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 parties’ rights, and a decision from the court that would allow MASS MoCA to move forward. Mr. Büchel, 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. Büchel has also made and sold or attempted to sell certain art works incorporating court filings from this dispute.

8. Could MASS MoCA’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 discussions–sometimes heated– happen frequently when complex works of art are brought into being, hence the term “works in progress.” 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 itself—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.

Posted September 18, 2007 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Training Ground

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21 Comments on “FAQ re: Training Ground”

  1. Joachim Frank Says:

    We should be sensitive to the rights of a visual artist to maintain control over his/her work. However, the way this artist has acted (as I learned from MassMoca’s documentation in the backroom exhibit) is frivolous and unreasonable. As a long-standing supporter of MassMoca, I’m concerned about a situation in which funds that could be used otherwise are being squandered to satisfy the oversized ego of a Swiss artist. I think the museum, as a not-for-profit organization supported in part by donations and membership fees, is correct in soliciting opinions from its membership base in this important matter. I hope that a documentation of these opinions will have additional weight in Court.

    Joachim Frank
    278 South Manning Blvd.
    Albany, New York 12208

  2. Barbara Johansen Newman Says:

    For what it is worth, and that might not be much, I blogged about the controversy and my high school senior son wrote about it for homework.


    Good luck on your court case.

  3. Barbara Johansen Newman Says:

    To paraphrase the NYTimes article from 9/16 , it is even less pretty when artists behave badly. It gives the rest of us who really work at what we do a bad name.


  4. Michelle Wilson Says:

    As a struggling artist myself, I can only imagine what I could do if an institution would provide $400,000 for me to create an installation! (as a matter of fact, MASSMoCA, I’m available for only $50,000! What a steal! I’m just kidding).

    In addition, I must add my appreciation to MASSMoCA’s sensitivity toward VARA and the rights of artists in a difficult situation.

  5. John Mills Says:

    Art copyright and ownership rights (unfinished artwork), I’m glad was the focus. If “everyone is an artist” was debated then the ruling would focus on business roles. A minority with de facto vetoe power over a majority would be an economic tyranny. A dictatorship. “It is because I say so”, can go only so far. Not at Mass Moca. Congratulations.

  6. Mary Bullock Says:

    Bravo MassMoCA.

    I’m tired of prima donna artists giving everyone around them a hard time. Talent (or leverage from critical hype) is no excuse for bad manners. I believe audience members can “finish” this piece for themselves.

    I’m a painter. For all work, even mine, there could be much to be gained by audiences having access to unfinished works. It is arrogant of the artist the think that his/her work of art could ever be complete absent the contribution of the viewer.

    Mary Bullock
    180 Corson Avenue
    Staten Island, NY 10301

  7. JB Says:

    I am a long-standing lover of MassMoCA. I really think the artist in this case has behaved like a jerk and should have allowed the museum to show the objects it procured for him. That said, however, I think the museum should have cut its losses and dropped this before it went before a judge. This feels like a lot of extra money being thrown at a jerk, and the press around the controversy gives me an uneasy/bad feeling about the museum and its management. So much energy is going into this. I’d rather see the museum do something else with that money–something constructive. It makes me hesitant to give the museum a check, to be honest, which was something I had been planning to do this year.

    Could the museum not see if another artist might want to use the materials to create something new that could be shown?

  8. Linda Kuehne Says:

    I am an artist myself and have been following the dilemma that MassMoca has faced. My husband and I have been coming up from NY every year since MassMoca opened and have loved the exhibits that have been mounted. I read the Roberta Smith review and while I ultimately agree with her that if an artist says a work is not finished, then you can’t show it, I am sympathetic to the museum’s plight as well. MassMoca deserves a lot of credit for its substantial support of many interesting artists through the years. Someone needs to come to the museum’s defense publicly because they are doing important work up there in North Adams which I applaud and others should too.

  9. Rebecca Hackemann Says:

    I would be over the moon to have an opportunity like this (being an artist) and it makes me sad how another artist can act like this. Perhaps MassMoca can give more opportunites to emerging artists who would be happy to do almost anything for a fraction of this cost, and look for quality and merit only, not stardom in an aritst’s work. For the money MasMoca has lost, it could have created an artist residency program (wheere artists can APPLY) or a group show with unrepresented artists with challenging new work.

  10. brian boucher Says:

    As a disclaimer, I haven’t been to the museum or seen the exhibition, but I have read a fair amount about it in the press.

    One thing I read in particular stands out. The exhibition “Made at Mass MOCA” apparently included extensive press coverage of the controversy, but notably left out Ken Johnson’s article in the Boston Globe taking the museum to task. Why? By exhibiting press coverage, you are plainly trying to make it seem as though you’re allowing the viewer to make up their own mind (a la the Fox News Channel: “We report. You decide.”). But if you don’t include all the press, and pointedly exclude a prominent article criticizing you, you’re just editorializing about yourself, arguing your own position in the guise of impartiality.

  11. Frances Shedd Fisher Says:

    Congratulations on winning the legal ruling (with which I agree) on the Training Ground case. By withdrawing the exhibition you have now also secured the moral ground.

    Best wishes for continuing opportunities to display cutting edge art.

    Frances Shedd-Fisher
    Brookline, MA

  12. B Johansen Newman Says:

    Please reference this static link instead

  13. Edward_ Says:

    The readers and I over at my blog have gone rounds and rounds about the issues involved here, with not all of the opinions shared flattering to Mass MoCA (but not all of them unfavorable either), but I don’t mind saying your FAQs here, while still debatable (that’s what blogs are for, no? debating) are an impressivly open and frank assessment of the public dialog on this topic. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

  14. Joseph Giannasio Says:

    To show that primadonna what a great institution MASS MoCA is you should implement his proposed installation, at least for the time it takes to empty Building 5 gallery

  15. Cedric Caspesyan Says:

    I used to be a fan of Cristoph Buchel but he totally disappointed me with how he let the Mass Moca down, one of my favorite museum.

    The rest of my thoughts on this topic are expressed on this thorough discussion on the affair (unfortunately, the thread starter was disappointed by the court decision, but most responses are supportive of the museum)

    Good luck!

  16. Kenneth Pappa Says:

    Christoph BĂĽchels work reminds me of when I remodeled houses so I guess its fitting that its still under construction. Kudos to Mass Moca for respecting artists wishes. Unfortunately for Mr. Buchels its apparent he is not a professional. Money aside, the great ones in all fields give there all.

  17. Henry Says:

    Agree with Joseph Giannasio above. Implementing Buchel’s “proposal” would be a good show of strength for the institution.

  18. Joseph Cincotta Says:

    As for the artist, Woody Allen famously noted that, “Ninety percent of life is showing up.” That would seem to be a succinct summation of the problem for Mr. Buchels. – Jc

  19. Calvin Muse Says:

    September 25, 2007 – Tuesday

    Category: Art and Photography


    It seems obvious that Mass MoCA has missed a tremendous opportunity to redefine the failed Christoph Buchel installation “Training for Democracy” to create an entirely new piece unique and separate from the original vision. Artistic spin in a real sense. The story itself seems ripe for a documentary treatment that if done properly could put MoCA on the map or at least in a front row seat at a future Sundance Festival. Instead it appears that they will open the installation as an unfinished work that will most likely lead to an expansion of the controversy with the museum coming out on the short end. Why not speak to the issues that developed using art as the vehicle. Chaaaaarist the name of the piece is “Training for Democracy”, or, all of the institutional things that we think help to further democracy but infact lead us farther away from true freedom. So in pursuing this large statement, money, the legal system, contracts, internal staff, artistic vision, ego, and I can only imagine board politics, created a true fiasco.
    I think Mass MoCA should disassemble the piece, as Mr. Buchel has requested, and in true democratic spirit split it into 50 seperate pieces and then invite an artist from each of these United States of America to create a treatment for their assigned piece and then reassemble it. Of course a documentary film crew should follow the whole process and then at the end we should all eat artisanal cheeses. The concept described above is copyright CALVIN MUSE FORCE ART 1.

  20. john tripp Says:

    Having just read of this case in the New York Times I’m probably a little late in knowing of its controversy. Still, I can’t help but wonder why the museum even invited Buchel to create an exhibit in the first place. He seems like another self-promoting and pointless artist who wants to stir up controversy for the sake of selling his lame art. If we need commentary on “Training Grounds for Democracy” it is not from a Swiss brat.

  21. Who Owns Art? | murmurART - International Contemporary Online Art Gallery Says:

    […] Mass MoCA’s side of things is given on their {blog}. […]

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