Book Review: 'Artist, Authorship & Legacy: A Reader' (2018)

Author:Ms Jana S. Farmer
Profession:Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP
 
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Artist, Authorship & Legacy is a collection of twenty-two interdisciplinary essays edited by Daniel McClean, art attorney in California and the United Kingdom, author and independent curator, who also contributed an introduction and his own essay on artists' estates to this volume. Other contributors include artists, art historians, art lawyers, curators, museum directors, writers and editors. This book should appeal to a broad audience. Jana Farmer's review outlines the book's structure and content, and concludes with an impression on its value to a wide range of readers, from practicing lawyers and art world professionals to art and law aficionados and students. Overall, the volume illustrates how contemporary artistic practices, which are continually changing and expanding the boundaries of artistic expression, present existing legal frameworks with a constant challenge to catch up and adequately serve the needs of the artists, owners of artworks and art world professionals.

This anthology is structured in three sections. "Part One: Authorship and Artists' Rights" follows the development of artists' rights in the United States and Europe since the 1960s and illustrates the importance of the identity of the author as creator in how artworks are valued in the contemporary market, even though many artists have questioned and tried to eradicate the concept of the single author by creating "authorless" works. With the concept of authorship come the related rights: right to be credited as an author of the artwork, right to object to false attribution, right to revoke authorship and right to prevent destruction or modification of the artwork. Part One also analyzes the American construct of fair use doctrine, a defense to copyright infringement that allows appropriation artists to take the work of others and subject it to creative transformation.

"Part Two: The Artwork, Aura, and Authentication" uses plenty of contemporary art references to show how artists' choice of mediums, delegation of production and performance, and choice to allow replication of artworks after the artist's death are at odds with copyright law's concepts of creator, original expression and derivative work. This section also addresses the ongoing tension between collectors and authenticators, where the opinions of the latter are much needed for the art market to function, but may be silenced under threat of unwarranted litigation by disappointed collectors.

"Part Three: Legacy and Its Stewards" focuses on the role of artists' heirs and foundations in shaping the narrative of the artist's legacy and place in art history. Essays in this section analyze issues surrounding how the artist may direct the way their oeuvre is seen over time, who should be entrusted with stewarding the artist's legacy and how these matters should be handled.

Part One: Authorship and Artists' Rights

In the opening essay of Part One...

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