Mass Moca Loses to Büchel Under VARA

by Lee Gesmer on March 10, 2010

Mass Moca Loses to Büchel Under VARA

Nice post title, eh?  Mass MoCA is the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Foundation a contemporary art museum in North Adams, MA.  Christoph Büchell is a Swiss “installation artist.”  Think very large, very avant-garde.  The New York Times describes his work “dense, fraught creations, which compress masses of material and objects into historically charged labyrinthine environments through which viewers walk, climb and crawl.”   Wow.  Sounds just right for good old, left-leaning western Mass.  Not.

VARA is the Visual Artists Rights Act, a section of the U.S. Copyright Statute that gives grants artists “moral rights.”   For example, part of the law provides that the author of a “visual work” has –

the right to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of the work of visual art in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation

The First Circuit held that the Museum violated this right when, after installation of a work that called for, among other things, according to the Times, “a burnt-out fuselage of a 737 airliner” it displayed the work without the artist’s consent.   That is, the artist stormed off after artistic differences with the museum, and  museum prepared to present the work, entitled “Training Ground for Democracy,” like or not.  Büchel sued under VARA, lost in U.S. District Court, but prevailed in the First Circuit, which is (I suppose) more sympathetic to moral rights than U.S. District Court Judge Ponsor had been.

This was a rare chance for the First Circuit to be the first federal circuit court to issue a decision under VARA, and the court’s 60 page decision, mostly in favor of Buchel, is linked in full directly below.

Mass Museum v. Buchel

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