Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Cady Noland, This piece doesn't have a title yet, 1989
As y'all know, I usually don't get too excited about institutional stuff, but the MassMoCA + Chris Buchel debacle was an exception. (Well, at least for 5 minutes.) A pity that one of the most instructive things written as a result of the court's ruling will be lost in the recycling bin next month thanks to Art in America's crap web presence (They can't even be bothered to update their site to show the latest issue. Lame much?) In the letters section, Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk of Pittsburgh's Mattress Factory layout how they've avoided Buchel-like troubles without contracts since they opened in 1977. It's an important read and I didn't want it to get lost. School is in session.
To the editors:
The Sept. 21 verdict in the Mass MoCA vs. Christoph Buchel case has created a storm in the art world and left no museum professional or artist indifferent to the issues of contracts, artist/museum responsibilities and exhibition budgets. It's an ugly affair that we're sure all participants would like to place firmly in the past. As experienced practitioners in the field, we may be able to illuminate a method of working with artists that has served our organization extremely well. That method is, simply, placing the emphasis on the creative process rather than the outcome.
Located on Pittsburgh's North Side, the Mattress Factory is a museum of contemporary art that presents room-sized environments, created by in-residence artists. Since its founding in 1977, the institution has commissioned new work from over 300 artists. Yet, in all those dealings, we never signed a contract stipulating the budget for a piece or detailing artist/museum responsibilities.
It is our position that the creative process trumps written delineation of dollars and roles. Free, open and continuous communication throughout the process is vital to both the artist and the museum. A contract is a line in the sand that impedes this necessary dialogue. We believe that the best outcome is achieved when all participants work together for the greater good of the piece.
Many months before installation of a piece at the Mattress Factory begins, the artist communicates a vision, and we begin working on a daily basis to assist in any way we can to help achieve that vision. From regionally sourcing materials and labor to providing detailed information to aid in the artist's research, the museum is an active participant in the process, not just the pen that signs the checks. We often meet with the artist multiple times to ensure that objectives are clear to everyone involved before the artist begins his or her residency at the museum. Should the vision change mid-installation, all parties engage in meaningful conversation about options and adaptations to consider as the project moves forward.
We do not claim to have the full answer for the Mass MoCA/Buchel incident. But in our experience, communication--not a contract--is the key to a mutually fulfilling artistic process.
Barbara Luderowski, Director
Michael Olijnyk, Curator
The Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh
HAA ADDENDUM: Hey. I stand corrected. There IS a version online at the Mattress Factory blog. All that obsessive typing for nothing. HaHa. It was worth it to find out that the MF has a blog. Thanks to Jeffrey for pointing that out.