the invisible artist, the invisible art

invisible art [large detail]

This is a true story (only the names have been withheld, for considerations of privacy and copyright):

A young artist is chosen to be in a group show at a respectable small non-profit space.

An appreciative and enthusiastic art blogger captures an image of the artist's work installed in that space and publishes it on his site.

On a return visit to the space months later the blogger is told by people in charge that photographs are not allowed at any time.

The blogger ceases to photograph any artists' work in that space.

Two years after the image of the young artist's work appeared on the blogger's site a major museum in another city writes to him asking if it could have permission to use it in publicity materials being prepared prior to a solo show it has scheduled of the artist's work, since there is no other photograph of the piece available.

The blogger suspects that the piece itself may no longer physically exist, thus explaining the importance of his photograph.

What does the blogger do in this case, and in the larger scheme of things, what does this scenario say about our cultural institutions' photography restrictions generally?

[invisible image from alpinebutterfly]

I have to agree that this is typical behavior and highly unacceptable. Cultural institutions need to stop playing the copyright game. The music industry killed off Napster and other music sharing services since it cut into their profits, now looking at them...2007 has been their WORST year ever. Art institutions are using some of the same tactics (with the unfortunate help of myopic artists) and don't realize that the tables will soon enough turn and they won't be able to control the flow of images (which have become as vital as words in the exchange of ideas in our culture). I say give it to them and f&#% the artist & institution. And make sure the bloggers name is in the copyright caption.

Been there. If the artist has an antiquated attitude towards photos, I don't cover the exhibit, simple. Blogging requires photos. To not want your images to get exposure is, stupid. I'd do a naked handstand in front of one of my paintings :) is that wrong?.

was this a rhetorical question? i was hoping someone would chime in for some further discussion. it's interesting.

I think of each of the questions as being both real and rhetorical. As far as the immediate case is concerned, since I didn't want to wait too long to respond to the museum, I've already sent them a higher-resolution copy of the image. I've also given them the kind of information about its origins or circumstances I thought they should have. I haven't yet heard back.

As for the larger question I would very much like to see it discussed, and I'd especially like to hear comments from people connected with the institutions which continue to reduce the visibility of the visual arts.

To throw out one suggestion, surely these powerful, wealthy, well-staffed and publicly-funded museums could easily arrange (with the artists, collectors and other institutions from whom they might borrow work) some kind of contractual agreement which would permit photography to the same extent it is normally tolerated for the museum's permanent collections.

And I would like to hear from more artists. It seems to be clear that those who are most hurt by this selective optical silence are almost always the most vulnerable: It is almost always the artists with the least visibility, the least support, the least money, and the least power whose work is hidden from us.

As you suggest in the last paragraph, I think most artists would want the image to be passed along to the institution requesting it.

Furthermore, once the work leaves the studio, it has its own life, and random photos of the piece are just one more piece of that history.

It seems a little weird especially because while the whole intellectual property issue comes up with art based on photography it's hard to see a work of art being used in a way that "steals" it's content. Even if the photographer were critical of the art that seems fair for any work displayed in a gallery context. I've seen people taking pictures at my gallery and haven't seen anybody including the artists get upset. Maybe the flash damaging a really fragile object would be a fair concern. Otherwise I don't understand it.