The Laws that Bind Us

Ashley Gallant, Museums Sheffield and University of Nottingham,

Estelle Derclaye, University of Nottingham,

This session explores the underlying and often overlooked structures that support, define and create art histories. What are the laws that bind us, and what happens if/when we change or challenge them?

Throughout the lifetime of an artwork, through its production, sale, dissemination, collection and display, the work interacts with many structures outside of the disciplines of art history and visual culture. Disciplines that traditionally are seen to act as supporting players help to insert and translate the art object into wider systems of ownership, protection and status. These legal structures, including property law, copyright law, government policy, insurance, tort law, data protection, conservation science and museum accreditation are all seen to support and be subservient or work in reaction to, the artist, art object and creation of art histories.

This session asks to what extent these understudied points of contact between the artwork and the surrounding disciplines have written art history. Does copyright or policy or an accessioning contract author a collection to the same extent as a curator? How has the law shaped taste, how have contracts defined the art object, and how has copyright sustained or critiqued positions of privilege? How has conservation affected display and meaning? Are these supporting structures, in fact, the dominant authors of meaning?

Speakers & Abstracts

Case and Effect: Vasari’s alternative facts of Dürer’s lawsuit in Venice

Grischka Petri (University of Bonn/University of Glasgow)

In the second edition of Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, et architettori (Florence: Giunti, 1568), Giorgio Vasari reports how Marcantonio Raimondi copied a woodcut series of Christ’s Passion by Albrecht Dürer as engraved reproductions. Dürer supposedly travelled to Venice, sued Raimondi, and obtained a decision from the Signoria that has become part of the canonised history of artistic copyright: in Vasari’s tale, Dürer lost, but Raimondi was ordered to omit Dürer’s famous monogram ‘AD’ from his reproductions.

Most aspects of Vasari’s tale are unreliable but have a vague alternative relation with verifiable facts. Vasari confounds the woodcuts that Raimondi copied, and he misinterprets the Venetian law that would have been available to Dürer. He seems to relocate a verdict against a dealer selling counterfeited Dürer prints by the City Council of Nuremberg in 1512 to Italy. Venice played a progressive role in the establishment of a system of printing privileges that reflect an early state of the regulation of intellectual property. Dürer was very aware of this system and obtained Imperial privileges for his book publications in 1511.

My paper disentangles Vasari’s anecdotes and offers a reassessment of the legal remedies and its conditions in Venice and Nuremberg in Dürer’s time. It will also address possible consequences for the dating of some of Dürer’s and Raimondi’s prints: the legal analysis becomes a tool for art history.

Photographers Build Their Cameras: Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams and the US patent record
María del Carmen Barrios-Giordano 
(University of Pittsburgh)

The role and function of the United States patent record is vastly understudied in the history of photography. This is likely due to histories of photographic technology being perceived in the field as flatly teleological, and of little interest to social historians of photography. This paper proposes that on the contrary, mining the patent record provides a new interpretive method for the social history of photography in mid-20th- century America.

Among the many photographers to have left their trace in the patent record are the venerable American photographers Berenice Abbott and Ansel Adams. Abbott’s presence in the record is reflected in patents for original inventions in photographic equipment, whereas Adams’ work is present through his famed Zone System. As a method by which to determine a photograph’s most desirable exposure, it is referenced in dozens of patents, often as a means for the calibration of photographic equipment or digital imaging processing. Meanwhile, Abbott’s patents – awarded through sustained legal efforts to safeguard her intellectual property – have few citations, and her ideas about the aesthetic qualities of photographs seem to have had a lesser impact on technological innovations.

The present paper identifies the patent record as an important, living archive of the influence and agency of some photographers on technological development, to which they have contributed through their aesthetic and political ideas about the ontology of photographs themselves. Noting differences of class, gender and professional networks, the case studies illustrate the lasting and the ephemeral in American photographers’ contributions to photographic history.

[To view this image, refer to the print version of this title.]: Art history in the UK and the barriers of communication

Oğulcan Ekiz (Queen Mary University of London)

This paper examines the impact of copyright on the art historians’ practice through the licensing process. It approaches the work of art as a sociocultural phenomenon and argues that its meaning is formulated through its circulation. However, the very same circulation is subject to free-market dynamics, which, as this paper illustrates, operates through a strict permission mechanism. While the paper analyses the consequences of the high reliance on permission and the exclusion of copyright exceptions, it also raises the following question: should copyright be treated as an external limiting factor to the discursive space of art history?

The paper pays specific attention to photography since the medium is both a subject of the art historians’ study and has been the primary medium of circulation of the artworks since the 19th century. This makes photography an essential medium for the art historians to both shape and present their research.

Through examining publishing practices, the paper argues that the art publication market has a high reliance on permission and renders copyright exceptions inaccessible to art historians. Three reasons are suggested for art historians’ avoidance of utilising exceptions: the need for a high-quality copy; the fear of liability; the fear of harming one’s network. It will be illustrated that the licensing process is not only costly and time-consuming, but it also leads to reduced content, reduced control over the content, and avoided or abandoned projects. As a result, the discourse of art history finds itself limited in its capacity to provide meaning for artworks.

Museum Acquisitions Committees and Their Role in Shaping Cultural and Financial Legacies

Lorraine Lezama Lazard (Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, New York City(alum)/Studio Conservancy)

How does the museum acquisition of an artist’s work influence and shape the value of and demand for existing and future work by that artist? Museum acquisition of artwork and the institutional imprimatur which attaches to such purchases, donations or acquisitions is perhaps the single most important factor in shaping and enhancing an artist’s professional reputation and increasing the market value of existing and, for living artists, future work. Yet, too often, little is known about the inner workings, composition and holdings of museum acquisition committees, the ways in which committee members are selected or appointed, and the formal principles and logic which drive decision-making with regard to the acquisition of artwork for a museum. To what extent, for example, is professional curatorial advice, external and internal, incorporated into decision-making about the purchase and acquisition of artwork? How are committee members’ conflicts of interests handled since most members are themselves art collectors? Are specific financial disclosures required from acquisition committee members? With whom should this information be shared? Since most public museums are non-profits and charged with both overseeing and shaping public trust and broad cultural legacies, I argue that increasing the transparency around the functioning and decision-making of these committees is necessary and best neutral institutional practices should be legally mandated and formally codified as essential elements of museum governance.




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