Food for Thought: Rebecca Belmore and Art as a Commodity

On the subject of artist's responsibility...I just discovered this Globe & Mail article regarding BC artist Rebecca Belmore's lawsuit with her former art dealer. Belmore is getting a lot of press these days for her performance in front of the VAG where she screams "I Quit!" in protest. You can watch the performance on You Tube. (Note to self: learn to embed videos on blog...) Anyway, another high profile artist-against- the-establishment lawsuit. Apparently it began over Belmore's alleged interruption of a sale of her work to the National Gallery:

"Originally launched in 2004, the lawsuit was revived in Ontario Superior Court in June when Ms. Nadimi filed an amended statement of claim against Ms. Belmore seeking more than $750,000 in damages.
Ms. Nadimi alleges breach of contract in Ms. Belmore’s decision to leave the gallery, and wrongful interference: The statement of claim alleges Ms. Belmore stopped a sale of her work Megaphone to the National Gallery, which was “embarrassing to the Art Gallery, damaging to Ms. Nadimi’s professional reputation and caused her significant mental distress.” In a draft statement of defence, to be filed Thursday or Friday, Ms. Belmore argues she had the right to refuse the sale and did so for “personal artistic reasons.”---Globe & Mail

So this raises so many questions about artistic and intellectual property and who has the final say over artistic works. As any artist will tell you, selling work in a gallery doesn't make you rich, even if the price tag is high. Galleries often take 50% or more, the art dealer another chunk, materials, shipping etc...etc... until the artist, after paying taxes on the sale, is left wth a very little percentage. On the flip side, commercial galleries exist to promote artists and create a demand for artwork in a commodities driven marketplace. Does Belmore, as represented by her dealer, have the right to say no to a sale? What value does artwork have? What right does the artist have to his or her own work?

As the article says, many artist are rallying behind Belmore, contributing in any way they can to show support. The comments to the article are also interesting with arguments on both sides. As for my thoughts?  Good luck Rebecca Belmore. Good luck Shepard Fairey. Good luck to the rest of us too...

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