September 22, 2007 at 8:23 am (art, culture, interesting, life, thoughts) (, , , )

Wow. I must be awfully naive, but I really never thought the Christoph Büchel vs MassMOCA lawsuit would go in this direction:

Here’s one thing I know as someone who’s been kicking around the art world for a little bit:

As an artist, you expect that museums will play fair and be nice. You take in stride that you might get jerked around by critics, commercial galleries, collectors, other artists, and so on. But somehow you expect more from museums. And then something like this happens.

I’m really curious to see how Jenny Holzer reacts to all this. She is certainly a big enough art name that she could pull out of her upcoming show with no damage to her career, but will she? She must have been working on this exhibit for months if not years; as miserable a situation as all this has turned out to be, there is a tiny corner of myself that can understand if she doesn’t cancel. Artists make all sorts of sacrifices in order to show their work… right? This is just another one of the indignities that artists face in the long road that is exhibiting… … right? In a situation like this, you just take a deep breath and go through the show like a trooper – the professional artist that you are…


Ugh, dear god. This whole situation makes me want to vomit. I am really keeping my fingers crossed that Holzer either cancels her show or is rushing off to the neon fabricator right now to have new huge text pieces that read THIS IS THE WORST MUSEUM EVER or DEMAND YOUR ADMISSION MONEY BACK so she can install them for the show.

Be thankful, at least, that it is Holzer coming up next. Someone with the kind of art world collateral that she has does have the actual option of cancelling or putting together a protest show. What would be even more heartbreaking is if there was a younger, less established artist scheduled in the next slot. Stuck between a gallery screaming at you to go ahead with the show, the museum screaming at you to be done already and whatever your own feelings are on the Büchel case… well, that’s a horrible situation to be in. Ugh. Good lord.

Quick update… thanks to Anaba for this link…
In one of the grossest/strangest distortions of Web 2.0 that I’ve seen in a while, MassMOCA now has a blog about the court case. Don’t let the format fool you; it may look like a blog and the great new day of the internet dawning in which readers collaborate (collaborate!!) with the creator of the site in order to create content… but it’s not. Instead, it’s an authoritarian FAQ about the court case (ok, understandable to a certain extent) followed by a very creepy comment section (ok, totally NOT understandable!! alarms blaring!!) to “discuss” the case. Suspiciously, there are only three comments and all are pro-MassMOCA.

The easy thing to do in this situation is to post a pro-Büchel comment and see if MassMOCA pulls it. I’m wondering if it would just be way more fun to do something like have 50 of us all hit the site and put really intense, well-thought-out arguments up there all at once and make an archive of what those comments are and… do something with them. I don’t know. I’m open for suggestions.



  1. wmr said,

    You are right. I have the same view on this issue, but I do not know how to write so beautifully.

  2. EFG said,

    Have you ever considered that maybe Jenny Holzer knows the folks at MASS MoCA beter than you do, and knows that they are honorable, concientious, hard-working professionals who have supported the work of hundreds of artists in their short existence?

    Have you considered the fact that she, and others, are grateful to work with such an incredibly supportive institution? Jenny Holzer is not the dupe or victim you make her out to be, and once the full court documents on this case are released you may change you tune.

  3. amywilson said,

    EFG – for the record, I have no doubt that the vast majority of the people working at MassMOCA are honorable, conscientious, hard-working professionals – I have no reason to believe otherwise. It’s the people in charge of making decisions in this particular case who I don’t consider so honorable or conscientious.

    I look forward to seeing the court documents you mention. I would love to change my tune and stand in support of the museum – that would make me feel better about my profession in general. It’s just that right now, from everything that I’ve seen so far, I don’t.

  4. EFG said,

    Thanks for your openmindedness. If you re-read your original post, it sounds like you are in favor of inciting some sort of vengeful action against MASS MoCA and that’s just not right. MASS MoCA is not “THE MAN” by any ethical or financial standard.

    The bottom line, if your read the court documents already available online, is that MASS MoCA had no alternative but to seek a legal judgement in this matter. If they would have tried to just throw the stuff in the gallery away, Buchel could have sued them for destroying his “art”. If they can’t get rid of it and can’t show it, suddenly one of the nation’s premier exhibition spaces has been turned into Buchel’s U-Stor unit.

    He refused to return and finish the piece. Period. What exactly was MASS MoCA’s option?

    And as for him claiming damages…What about the fact that Buchel was selling framed copies of emails between him and MASS MoCA’s director at Art Basel for $45K a pop?
    is that a smart move for someone worried about the situation damaging his reputation?

  5. amywilson said,

    Ok, for the record: I am absolutely not in favor of inciting any kind of violent protest against MassMOCA or its employees or that sort of thing – that would be completely ridiculous and I truly, sincerely apologize if you thought otherwise. We have here a problem inherent in blogging: One day, the only people reading your blog are a group of close friends who know you well; the next day, people you’ve never met are wandering over to see what you’ve written. The audience changes abruptly without the author quite realizing it.

    However, a peaceful, thoughtful protest is another story entirely – that I would love to see. And I’d love to see Mass MOCA open up their discussion on their website to some opinions other than ones purely in favor of them. That’s what I was getting at.

    I can tell you with complete honesty that I showed up at the exhibit this August expecting to root for the museum. That’s why my husband and I drove out of our way on our way to Boston and paid our admission fee and went to go see it. Had I thought from the onset that the museum was 100% wrong, I wouldn’t have bothered.

    I changed my mind when I saw the show. I thought that exhibiting the work partially covered by tarps was tasteless and that the “Made at Mass MOCA” exhibit was laughable. Had they exhibited *all* the articles on the controversy – including the ones that come out against Mass MOCA – they would have gone a good distance at actually showing the public how complex the whole situation is. Instead, they put forth this cheerful show about what a great museum they are, and the whole thing reeked of a whitewash… just like the utter lack of negative comments on their blog.

    To me, Mass MOCA’s only proper route was to close the gallery it was installed in and, yes, store the work until the case got sorted out in court (and to, in the future, have clearly worded contracts laying out the budget, responsibility for and ownership of the work as many museums do). I understand that this is a huge space that would have gone unused and that is a shame. But this is a case where you can’t just have two wrongs making a right or have it become a battle between who is the bigger jerk, the artist or the museum because nothing gets resolved if you let it boil down to that.

    What I started out by saying in this post is that I really expect a lot from museums – I expect them to take the high road. And I just haven’t seen that at all in this case.

  6. EFG said,

    OK – I see where you’re coming from, but this “high road’ you speak of is purely academic and idealistic. MASS MoCA has no endowment, is located in the boonies, and relies on visitation for income. Shutting its flagship gallery indefinitely, and during the peak summer tourist season, would be suicidal. Even if it’s not this virtuos ideal to which you would have us aspire, MASS MoCA’s road was higher than Buchel’s, making it, between the two, the high road.

    As for the whitewash accusation, so what? Buchel, in his statement to the Globe last spring said horrible things about the MASS MoCA staff, essentially calling them incompetent idiots. Why don’t they have the right to put up a display of all the astounding work they’ve made there and say “We’re not incompetent idiots. Actually we’re very good at what we do.” At least they weren’t actively bashing Buchel. , Unlike Donn Zaretsky, Buchel’s lawyer, who blogged viciously about MASS MoCA during the entire legal proceedings.


    Here’s where you’re missing a semantic perhaps but fundamental point. You say “I changed my mind when I saw the show. I thought that exhibiting the work partially covered by tarps was tasteless…” You didn’t see the show! It was announced in May that the show was cancelled and – at least when I visited – there was plenty of signage saying explicitly that this was NOT a Christoph Buchel exhibition. You saw abandoned materials, which Roberta Smith herself referred to as “just al lot of stuff”.

    It can’t be both ways.

    BTW, if you are a Buchel supporter, and it seems that you are, why have you published photos that you took by peeking behind the tarps? The artist didn’t want the world to see his unfinished work and you’ve put it out there for anyone who can google to see.

    This is my last post. We disagree. But I guarantee there’s more to this whole story than any of us yet know.

  7. DSW said,

    Hello Amy,
    I’m one of those just popped in commenters, I came by way of anaba’s blog

    I do hope you keep an open mind and reach a point to consider this with reason, right now it is very emotional, I too as an artist immediately took Buchel’s side, but the more I researched it and the more I read I have found he really brought this on himself, and in the end I think he has done a lot of damage in adding to the spoiled primadonna artist stereotype. In doing so maybe forcing MASS MoCA to as you put it

    (and to, in the future, have clearly worded contracts laying out the budget, responsibility for and ownership of the work as many museums do)

    This would be a deep blow to artists, according to MASS MoCA they had an agreement similar to the one for 65 previous works of art, obviously it wasn’t a well thought out legal contract, I assuming it was a good faith agreement, if now before MASS MoCA let’s an artist do a piece of art they have to plan and budget and have MASS MoCA approve everything in advance I doubt anything exciting would happen. I’ve never been to but I gather MASS MoCA’s mission as their website states

    MASS MoCA exhibits work by many of the most important artists of today—both well known, and emerging—focusing on large-scale and complex installations that are impossible to realize in conventional museums. Our broad, soaring galleries with 110,000 square feet of open, flexible space and their robust industrial character have proven both inspiring and empowering to artists.

    access like that to funding is a truly rare opportunity for artists, and I would say all in all MASS MoCA delivered, and did try to deliver here, and I can’t blame them for not being able to deliver a burntout 737. can you?

    and it does seem that it was Buchel instigated this,and bought it all down on himself, but I do agree with you that two wrongs don’t make a right, and even

    What I started out by saying in this post is that I really expect a lot from museums – I expect them to take the high road. And I just haven’t seen that at all in this case.

    So let’s separate MASS MoCA as an institution, which I believe has been very important since it opened its doors, It has several times beat NY to the punch (for the record I am a New Yorker) in providing opportunities for emerging artists, and taking risks, which I believe art should be about.

    and let’s look at, and blame
    museum’s director, Joseph Thompson
    He is the one who as you put it should have taken the High Road, and let’s face it if he would have just emptied the gallery without asking Buchel to pay for everything all this could have been avoided as well.
    I really hope the Board removes him, or allows him to step down so MASS MoCA can continue to be the great institution it has been, and can continue to work on a good faith basis with artists.

    as for Jenny Holzer
    you say:

    I’m really curious to see how Jenny Holzer reacts to all this

    I hope she does the show she’s been planning to do, If she does decide that something to protest fits the context of what she has been working on that’s her decision, I hope the art world doesn’t turn to her and expect her to do anything other than what she wants, I think her work has matured past the type of protest you are calling for, she can Ironically be the elder states person of art and be the one to show the high road.

    thank You

  8. amywilson said,

    Thank you – this is all very thoughtful. I appreciate the amount of care and passion that is following this story… Just a few followup counterpoints from me…

    I agree that the Board should remove Thompson. I think that would go a very long way at making this better.

    As far as the contract… I have to say that I signed a contract with the Aldrich (just a loan agreement, but still) this summer, and that loan agreement accounted for things like what would happen if my work was exposed to radiation and other bizarre occurances/contingencies like that (yes, I am being totally serious – there was a line in the contract covering radiation). And yet the Aldrich routinely has a variety of amazing shows – the contract doesn’t get in the way.

    I’m not suggesting that the contract be that specific. But it just seems to me that if a contract between Buchel and the museum existed that said:

    “The budget is _______. Artist agrees to secure outside funding for all expenses above and beyond this budget.” …and then something claiming who retains ownership of the work until when – period. Seems to me that would take care of it and still be very reasonable.

    I like your suggestion of Holzer taking the role of the elder statesperson – it’s one that I (clearly) hadn’t thought of. The one thing I trip over if I go for that, is this: Given that her work has its roots in politics, protest, and critique, how does she *not* respond to what happened? I’m not sure of what the content of the show is – a mini-retrospective or new work, or… ? (Or hey, what if MOCA switched the show to an “All-Critique All Stars” type thing and just let Holzer, Hans Haacke, Fred Wilson, and so on just go absolutely crazy tearing the museum a new one, and then we can officially get it out of our collective systems and move on? Now THAT would be awesome!!!)

    On another topic…
    Ok, many, many thanks to anaba.blogspot.com for his links to this blog. Hits to my blog are through the roof since he linked. I am thinking – and I am putting this up for discussion to see if I’m being a totally ridiculous tool or not, so let me know your ideas – of closing or archiving this post, or perhaps moving the discussion elsewhere. The reason why is that I feel as though we have two really good, thought-out pro-Mass MOCA arguments to balance out my anti-Mass MOCA rant, so maybe that should be it?

    There is also the idea nagging in my brain that my blog is (usually) a tad on the personal side, written more for my friends and people who know my work, and that having this conversation here may not be the best, most productive place to be having it. I don’t know… I’m overthinking this like crazy, right? Let me know.

  9. John said,

    “I really hope the Board removes him, or allows him to step down so MASS MoCA can continue to be the great institution it has been, and can continue to work on a good faith basis with artists.”

    That would be a shame, considering he’s the one who really guides Mass MoCA’s playful identity and fashions what is good about it – it’s very reflective of the guy’s actual personality. Want to see it turn into another boring art museum and quick?

    The Buchel situation is unfortunate, but to judge the museum’s years long work from that one incident is an astonishing way to view it. Mass MoCA is hardly “the Man.” Like any organization, they do stumble, they do make bad decisions – let he who casts the first stone and all that. I think they’ve done far more good than bad despite their missteps in this case.

    Besides, in all honesty, a desired budget of 300k for an art installation in a town where you could buy about six houses for that price is pretty damn vulgar, however you look at the rest of it. Mr. Buchel has done a disservice by perpetuating the idea of artists as divas in a bubble with no sense of reality – now THAT is one of the most horrible shames to come out of the case.

  10. amywilson said,

    wait, this is super fucking annoying… I wrote a response to comment #6 which I really liked… except that it disappeared. wtf.

    oh well. commenter #6, i liked what you had to say. that’s basically it.


    (duh… found it. my own blog thought my comment was spam. wtf. i’m so sick of this post.)

  11. amywilson said,

    My apologies to efg – wordpress for some bizarre reason is spamming comments on this thread, which is seriously annoying. So his/her comment only got posted now, after I thought to go check for it.

    Just two things to follow up with…

    Re: the “whitewash” exhibit
    I dunno. I just have this (idealistic?) idea that the role of museums is to somehow be the archive of their culture, and having Mass MOCA display such a lopsided view of a controversy that it seems everybody already knows about just seemed like a lie. And when I’ve gone out of my way to see this museum that I showed up supporting and wanted to root for, the last thing I want them to do is totally patronize me and act like absolutely nothing is going on – which is what the exhibit felt like.

    My point is: JUST LET IT AIR OUT! This isn’t going away by pretending it didn’t happen and just talking about how great the museum has been in the past. Obviously, I don’t agree with how the museum handled it, but how do we move on? We let it piss out of our collective systems until we’re sick of it. If they had presented all sides rather than simply digging their heels into the ground, I think the sympathy they would have generated would have been massive. I, at least, would have gotten the impression that they were trying to do something constructive with the controversy rather than simply state that they’re right, there is no disagreement, the end.

    Re: the pictures
    The reason why I published the pictures is that seeing the exhibit is what changed my mind (as stated before: I had supported Mass MOCA and then I changed my mind when I saw the exhibit) and I want more people to see the images so they could have a fuller understanding of what’s going on up there. It would be wrong to think that I’m a 100% a Büchel supporter or 100% against MassMOCA. I have my own sense of what’s right or wrong in this that goes beyond simply just taking a side and clinging to it.

  12. devidblein said,


  13. Trutrirerom said,

    Very interesting blog. I can get boistrous with my booze ideal Wanna very nice joke?)) What do you call it when worms take over the world? Global Worming.

  14. Arnie said,

  15. Amy Wilson in “Canceled” at The Center for Book Arts « The Visual & Critical Studies blog said,

    […] which she posted on her artist’s blog (the photo used for that painting can be seen here). In a subsequent post, she wrote about her thoughts on the situation and engaged in an extended debate with several […]

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