Should Visual Artists Get Resale Fees?
There’s a fascinating article in today’s NY Times about an artists’ class action lawsuit filed against Sotheby’s, Christie’s and E-Bay in order to get compensation for the resale of their work.
In a way it ties into our discussion of the Beyonce/de Keersmaeker controversy–when an artist makes work, who owns it? How long do they own it? How much control do they have over its use and/or appropriation, when should they be compensated and how much?
Obviously the visual art system, in which an object is created and offered for sale, increasing or decreasing in value over time, is different than the ephemeral field of live art. But it does raise similar issues. If an artist makes a painting that first sells for $900 and later sells for $85,000 (as happened to Rauschenberg in 1973), does the artist deserve a cut? Or do they relinquish any control over the future use or ownership of the object? Should they receive a fee by a museum that shows their work?
It seems like a Catch-22. If the artist wants to raise the value of their work, they really need to be presented not only by a prestigious gallery but by a museum–after all, that value is predicated on the approbation by elite tastemakers. So they will gladly show their work for free at a museum. Early career artists will gladly sell their pieces to collectors for nominal sums because (a) they need to eat and (b) sales could lead to more sales, could build their reputation or build buzz. So an artist spend their own resources to make a work which they willingly sell at a “reasonable” cost on the off chance it will lead to a museum or high end gallery show, which will raise the value of the work they’ve already sold and don’t make any more money off of! Yes, maybe their future work will sell for more money–but a gallery will take a piece of that, etc. etc. etc. It seems like a raw deal to me.
Here’s a quote from the article:
For many visual artists, the issue is clear. “We need legislation to enact the right to royalties,” said Frank Stella, the president of the International Council of Creators of Graphic, Plastic and Photographic Arts, “and we need to align it with what goes on in Britain and the E.U.” Literature, music, film, computer programming and patents all have better intellectual-property protection than American visual art, Mr. Stella added. The Visual Artists and Galleries Association, a nonprofit group that seeks to protect the intellectual-property rights of artists, also supports a national law.
So let’s see–literature, music, film, computer programming, and patents are all protected, but visual art is barely considered worth it and performance/live art not at all. I guess that means that anything you make onstage that can’t be written as a script and sold as a “play” isn’t a real idea or isn’t actually creative or original and doesn’t merit the protection of copyright or as intellectual property. Nice.
There’s way too much to go into here, so read the article at the Times and comment in the comments!