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Who Owns Art History?

The following are brief excerpts from a Facebook dialog that’s taken place over the last four days on the Loren J. Munk page. The impetus of the original post was a demand received through YouTube from a supposed dealer, who threatens “getting ugly” if his demands aren’t met. This subject seems like prime territory for the investigation of “New Media” and some of its implications. Thanks here to those who contributed. I’ve edited due to space limits, but tried to capture the general tone.

An as yet unnamed art dealer is threatening "getting ugly" unless the Kalm Report deletes an episode which he claims infringes on his copyrights. (I created the video but there are brief views of videos by his artists.) Should I call his bluff? Anybody with copyright expertise have an opinion?

Kathy Schnapper: Museums restrict photography in temporary exhibitions, because reproduction rights are owned either by the owners of works on loan or by the artists (if they are living). So a dealer is within his rights to restrict photography in his/her gallery.

As for 'who owns art history, art historians must get permission--and often pay rights--before they publish images of art works. It is one of the things that makes research and writing quite expensive. One can write art history freely, but not necessarily reproduce the work. (Some artists allow their work to be reproduced in low-resolution, with digital water-marks, but that is an individual choice.)

My guess is that Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts would come in on the side of protecting the rights of the artists whose works are on exhibition, rather than someone who tries to photograph those works. IIRC, they publish a booklet on this subject.

John Haber: Kathy, that's clear and helpful, thanks. I know in college texts, where I work, permissions are a major expense. Loren, on a gut level: if you were visiting a friend's studio, wouldn't you ask first before pulling out a video camera, filming it, and posting it on the Web?

"Who owns art history?" here is loaded and misleading. It evokes the question as often asked in museum studies, regarding the influence of museums and collectors in setting the agenda for reputations, ways of looking, and just what we mean by art history.

It's not necessarily insidious, but it is certainly biased and related to money and power. One's owning a work of art, on the other hand, while tied up in the market and tastes generally, is hardly a totalitarian gesture. At least I hope the few artists who sold or gave me a work didn't think so.

FWIW, I find Kalm's claim to be a public service misleading. His real-time videos (Hm, here I am outside the gallery, now I'm entering . . .), are somewhere between an ego trip and masturbation.

Ravenna Taylor: personally, I think they should be grateful for the exposure. Most of us have websites and those images can be downloaded, printed, and used for anything at all without our knowledge, but we take that risk because we want visibility. Yes, I know one can go to court to protect copyright, but....

Laurence A. Walczak: "Fair usage" or not I find James Kalm's video reports helpful & at times, insightful. There are more than a few reports I saw on FB that actually led me to the gallery/exhibition featured. I'm grateful for that...

Joanne Mattera: You are a reporter, right? And the work is absent malice, right? Sounds like you are First Amendment protected, but do call Volunteer Lawyers for Art,
And if necessary, call upon your vast network of admirers for financial support. Free Loren!

Martin Bromirski: yeah call his bluff. wouldn't the gallery's first legal step in that case be to send a formal cease and desist letter? see if that happens, and then decide what do do from there.

Suzanne Fredericq: Copyright issues set aside, I love watching James Kalm videos. For someone not living in NYC, it’s the closest to real time one experiences visiting a gallery. I like it when the door opens, and James Kalm starts shooting right then and there ten-minute snapshots of cinéma vérité. It's nice to see the design of the gallery and how the art fits the space. Photographs often don't show this.

Grace Graupe Pillard: I absolutely support Loren's right to video in the gallery and value his bicycle-man videos and have my students watch them - as they are in NJ and often cannot go to see the shows.

Don't get John's ego trip/masturbatory reference. How dat? Its not about Loren/James and HIS own art. I personally think that he is generous in spirit for doing these pieces. Editing takes up a lot of time. I make videos too and boy it can take forever.

Transformative Use is tricky -but one of the best books on the subject is ©OPYRIGHTS AND ©OPYWRONGS BY SIVA VAIDHYANATHAN published by NYU Press. He is an expert on this matter as well as Lawrence Laessig.

James Kalm: First of all, thanks to everyone for your input. It seems that the majority agree that James Kalm should call the bluff. Kalm will call the “dealer” and see if they can come to some mutually beneficial accommodation. In a way, this exemplifies one aspect of the artist dealer relationship, the essence of which is power and control.

As we’re all aware, the economy is in a recession. The art marked has collapsed, and galleries are closing at a shocking rate. Magazines are folding or cutting back, and yet some people don’t want free world wide exposure for their galleries or artists, and threaten “getting ugly” in an attempt to intimidate artistic and journalistic projects.

At this point let me clarify some points brought up above. Regarding restricting photography at temporary exhibitions, since the inception of the “Kalm Report” this policy has changed dramatically. In most cases, if you are present at the press preview, you can record and photograph the works, and interviews. This varies from institution (some allow still photography but no video) to institution, but the intelligent ones are trying to keep up with the innovations of technology and the internet, and are granting much greater freedom. I believe a lot of the restrictions on photography are simply to avoid distracting viewers with flashes and other annoyances during the commercial run of a show.

The question of public versus private space and the ethics of recording in ether is interesting. We’ve all seen TV reporters who do undercover exposés that venture into stores, offices or houses, and are recorded without the consent of the subjects. Somehow this is acceptable for a journalist investigation but not an artistic one? Beyond the documentation of the artifacts, the “Kalm Report” also seeks to capture the totality of the opening, the visitors, the hanging, the mood. These are all important parts of art history.

If the “Report” seems in some realms of the art critical establishment to be a masturbatory ego trip, then I confess gladly to being an art fluffer, and would change the title to the “Cum Report” if it gets people who normally wouldn’t have a chance to view or discuss art involved.

The essence of the debate is the racing changes brought about by technology and the internet. Old hierarchies are collapsing. Institutional standards are shifting. Economic restrictions are curtailing “professional” controls of information. In other words folks, this is the Wild West. Precedents that are being set now will establish future standards. As things settle out, should we be on the side of restricting this democratic freedom? Of course, there are questions of commercial interests, intellectual property etc., but they’ll solve themselves in time.

Again thanks all, I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime here's the latest Kalm Report:
Dennis Oppenheim @ Janos Gat, Allan D’Arcangelo Paintings 1962-1982 @ Mitchell-Innes & Nash

James Kalm combines a couple of exhibitions that have yet to find a slot in the roster. Dennis Oppenheim is a stalwart of the Soho art community, a participant in Land and Body Art. This show at Janos Gat Gallery features proposals for large scale public works that hover somewhere between sculpture and architecture. Mitchell-Innes & Nash presents Allan D’Arcangelo Paintings 1962–1982. D’Arcangelo (1930-1998) is one of the greatest if under recognized “Pop” masters. This is his first New York retrospective since 1979. Employing images from everyday life and the media, D’Arcangelo melded a simplified directness with an abstract sensibility that achieves the quality of high-speed American icons. The pictures often depicting highways signage combined with pinup cheesecake.