The Act also expressly states that modifications which are the result of “public presentation” are not “distortions” actionable under VARA. Büchel and prior cases indicates, the “moral rights” protected by VARA are limited in scope and its provisions will be narrowly applied by the courts.
A stalemate ensued during which the objects in Gallery 5 sat covered with tarps.
Finally in March 2007, Mass Mo CA’s Director sent Büchel an ultimatum — finish the installation, remove it, and reimburse the museum for its costs (estimated at over $300,000), or agree to allow the museum to either remove the materials or exhibit the unfinished installation.
VARA provides specific attribution and integrity rights for creators of works of visual art, including the right to prevent the destruction of works of “recognized stature.” For works created prior to June 1, 1991, to which title has not been transferred by the artist, rights under VARA run for the same period as copyright protection, currently life of the author plus 70 years.
Only the artist has the attribution and integrity rights conferred by VARA.
Legal and ethical considerations What do you get when you combine a Swiss artist, a football field-sized museum gallery, and $300,000 worth of materials, including a two-story Cape Cod-style house, a movie theater, cinderblock walls, sea containers, a mobile home, multiple vehicles, and thousands of found objects?
An opportunity to discuss the legal and ethical implications of exhibiting unfinished commissioned works.
As early as 1845, French courts held that only the artist knows when his work is finished and that "unauthorized exposure of unfinished paintings is an infringement of the right of divulgence." Although Western European copyright traditions provide an interesting contrast to the American approach, it is important to keep in mind Stephen Weil’s admonition that “copyright law is essentially territorial”: Regardless of an artist’s birthplace, citizenship, domicile, or habitual residence, and regardless as well of where the artist’s work was created, the only copyright provisions that the courts of the United States will apply to the artist’s work are those to be found in the United States’ own Copyright Act.
It is perhaps equally important to observe that museums do not operate exclusively in courts of law. Increasingly, the court of public opinion is international in scope.
Although Mass Mo CA won the right to display “Training Ground for Democracy” as an unfinished work, the museum’s Director decided instead to dismantle the work out of respect for the artist’s view.