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Who Owns Public Artwork?

Daniel Buren, the French avant-garde artist whose work in the Palais-Royal courtyard (Les Deux Plateaux, 1985–1986) I mentioned yesterday, is all over the news these days. I thought I would follow up on that post with a less recent article about the court finding that Buren has just lost, concerning images of one of his in situ pieces. In 1994, Daniel Buren and Christian Drevet were awarded a commission to redesign the Place des Terreaux, in Lyon, a work they called Déplacement – Jaillissement : D’une fontaine, les autres. According to an article by Michel Guerrin and Florence Morice (La Cour de cassation limite le droit d'auteur de Daniel Buren et Christian Drevet, March 18) for Le Monde, Buren and Drevet sued four publishers for having reproduced images of their work in the Place des Terreaux for commercial postcards, without obtaining the artists' permission and without even mentioning their names on the back of the cards. They lost their case in the court where it was originally brought in 2001, a ruling which was upheld by the appeals court in May 2004 and again this month by the Cour de Cassation.

Although the court recognized that the two artists' redesign constitutes "a work in itself," it still considered that work "to be based on the architectural ensemble of the Place des Terreaux, of which it was only one element" and that "such a lawsuit was therefore unfounded."
In effect, because the real interest of the postcards is the buildings around the square, the images do not impinge on Buren and Drevet's creative rights. The very nature of Buren's signature works, what he has called in situ pieces, means that he gives up some control of them by their location. How timely, then, that there is a new retrospective on Buren's challenging career at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, The Eye of the Storm: Works in Situ by Daniel Buren, until June 8 (reviewed by and by ArtForum).

Back in 1971, Buren caused quite a stir at the Guggenheim International Exhibition by hanging a huge white-and-black-striped canvas, Peinture-Sculpture (65 by 32 feet in size), in the museum's central atrium, obscuring the display of many of the other artworks in the show. Mostly because of other artists' complaints, Buren's piece was removed from display. There is a great interview with Susan Cross (A Conversation with Daniel Buren) on the museum's Web site, in which I learned that none other than Dan Flavin was one of the principal voices responsible for turning the tide against Buren's piece. The principal new work now being shown at the Guggenheim, Around the Corner, has been installed in the same place as the previous work. It is a large mirrored wall, in two sections, that reflects the Frank Lloyd Wright spiral back upon itself. Read Michael Kimmelman's thoughts on the exhibit (Tall French Visitor Takes Up Residence in the Guggenheim, March 25) and those of Linda Yablonsky (An artist picks up where he left off, March 19) for the New York Times.

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