Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Public, Private or Process

The recent and public dispute between the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Swiss artist Christoph Buchel has made me think about how artists do and don’t control their work. Buchel is known for creating life-sized installations of complete rooms, bomb shelters and other spaces that visitors walk, crawl and climb. This monumental installation was titled, "Training Ground for Democracy." " The giant Mass MOCA included in Building 5 a movie theater, a guard tower, a mobile home and a two-story house, among other objects listed by the artist. The artist says the museum botched the installation and failed to live up to its end of the agreement. The museum claims Buchel went over budget. The museum won the first victory to show the "unfinished" work but instead dismantled it to make room for another exhibition without ever opening. Is the fallout from this fiasco, complete with all legal documentation, a new work of art in its own right?

This idea of control came back to me seeing some recent photos that Kurt took at Madison Square Park. They show the disassembling of some Roxy Paine sculptures (Conjoined, Defunct and Erratic) that have been gracing the park. These are large stainless-steel tree sculptures, ranging in height from 12 to 55 feet. They are fabricated from up to 7000 metal pipe and rod elements, in 30 different diameters, assembled through cutting, bending, tacking, welding, grinding and polishing. The trees have been placed in numerous important public collections across the United States and Europe, including the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, the St. Louis Art Museum and the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska.

Today they are in pieces on ground. Should they have some privacy in their disassembly? Is it like a naked woman exposed in bathroom? Or is this just process? Certainly since Paine is a conceptual artist, a part of the work? The jury is out...

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