“Training Ground for Democracy” was to be assembled at the museum’s expense, with its staff members seeking out and installing items on a long list in collaboration with Mr. Büchel. His outsize list included a two-story Cape Cod cottage, a leaflet-bomb carousel, an old bar from a tavern, a vintage movie theater and various banged-up rolling stock (a trailer, a mobile home, a bus, a truck). Nine full-size shipping containers were requested. There was even to be a re-creation of Saddam Hussein’s spider hole. But things did not go smoothly. By the end of January, and well past the scheduled Dec. 16 opening date, Mr. Büchel had departed for good and begun accusing the museum of interference, unprofessionalism and wasting his time.
The museum said it had tried mightily to gather everything on Mr. Büchel’s wish list but balked at acquiring a burnt-out fuselage of a 737 airliner. It pointed out that it had spent more than double the show’s $160,000 budget; Mr. Büchel countered that an amount had never been agreed upon.
Now the components of “Training for Democracy” loom as if in a desolate ghost town, surreally camouflaged by plastic tarps in Building 5. Mass MoCA says it shrouded the elements pending a court decision that it hopes will allow it to display the installation.
Mr. Thompson, director of Mass MoCA, said the museum had “clearly bent over backwards” for Mr. Büchel. Yet by opening the show, covered, last spring against Mr. Büchel’s wishes and now seeking a court’s go-ahead to remove the tarps, the museum renders all of that moot. If an artist who conceived a work says that it is unfinished and should not be exhibited, it isn’t — and shouldn’t be. End of story.
(His lawyer cites a federal law that says as much, the Visual Artist Rights Act. But Mass MoCA argues that the law applies only to finished works of art.)
It’s hard for a museum to recover when it forfeits the high ground. To this day the Corcoran Gallery of Art remains infamous for canceling its 1989 exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs after his work was denounced by Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina.
Although there may be parts of the installation proper that Mr. Büchel considers finished, what is visible above and below the tarps today is barely the skeleton of a Büchel. It’s just a lot of stuff.
You are reminded of Hollywood, where directors (that is, artists) are routinely denied “final cut.” Of course, Renaissance popes often had final cut too. But I prefer to invoke the spirit of Robert Rauschenberg, who, when asked to contribute to a show of portraits of the Paris dealer Iris Clert in 1961, sent a telegram that read, “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.”
In the end it doesn’t matter how many people toil on a work of art, or how much money is spent on it. The artist’s freedom includes the right to say, “This is not a work of art unless I say so.”
The public never saw artist Christoph Büchel's giant installation at Mass MoCA. Now, as the museum takes it apart, documents filed in a bitter lawsuit offer a behind-the-scenes look at just what went wrong.full story
Last month US District Court Judge Michael Ponsor ruled Mass MoCA could open the unfinished installation to the public. Instead museum director Joseph C. Thompson (no relation to Nato) decided to dismantle it. The yearlong battle had worn down his staff, and a Jenny Holzer exhibit was due to open in the space soon. Mass MoCA, Joe Thompson said, wanted to move on.
But the fallout from this fiasco continues, even as the art world digests its lessons. Büchel has appealed the court ruling. Michele Maccarone, the New York gallery director who represents Büchel in the United States, said she will tell collectors not to support the museum and will steer her stable of artists, including Christian Jankowski and Carol Bove, away from the institution. Mass MoCA is planning a symposium this fall on the now notorious disaster.And thanks to thousands of pages of documents filed in court, the dispute could serve as the ultimate how-not-to guide in the complicated world of installation art. Internal e-mails, letters, and planning documents reviewed by the Globe reveal, in the starkest terms, the depth of animosity between the artist and the museum. The communications also detail Mass MoCA's missteps along the way and the museum's repeated attempts to salvage the show, even as curators inside leveled criticism at the difficult artist.
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
Training Ground for Democracy
MASS MoCA has cancelled the presentation of Training Ground for Democracy, a large-scale installation planned with Swiss artist Christoph Büchel. While MASS MoCA has provided double the original budget, increased the available time for installation by a factor of three, and made available to the artist significant additional funding to return and complete the work, the artist has so far not returned to North Adams to finish the work.
(North Adams, Mass. – Tuesday, May 22, 2007) MASS MoCA announced today that it has cancelled the presentation of Training Ground for Democracy, a large-scale installation planned with Swiss artist Christoph Büchel. Although Training Ground for Democracy has not been completed, the cancellation enables MASS MoCA to present Made at MASS MoCA, a documentary project exploring the issues raised in the course of complex collaborative projects between artists and institutions. The new exhibition will open on Saturday, May 26, 2007.