The tale of two log cabin cases
Written by Jessie Hamill-Stewart on 15 August 2017« Return to Reading Room
How one structure made of logs evoked not one, but two legal disagreements.
Artist Cady Nolan created her large log structure, with a log cabin façade and two American flags, during the 1990s. It was during this time that Wilhelm Schurmann brought the work, to then loan it to a museum. The museum kept the sculpture outside for ten years. Afterwards, it was loaned to the Michael Janssen Gallery.
However, by this point the sculpture was deteriorating and in 2010 an art conservator recommended reconstruction. New materials and logs replaced decayed material from the original structure, which was thrown away. Nolan was not made aware of this change. When she found out, in 2014, she took the angle that her work had been destroyed. Consequently, she directed a copyright infringement suit in Southern District of New York against Michael Janssen Gallery, Michael Janssen and Wilhelm Schumenn. She claimed that they had violated her moral rights under the Federal Visual Artists Rights Act 1990.
This was not the only suit the sculpture attracted. In 2014, Nolan disowned the statue after she found out about its transformation. This meant that legally the gallery had to buy back the work from any purchasers. This caused a purchase, which the gallery had organised for the sculpture, to fall through. The purchaser made a claim against the gallery that they were owed money because the purchase fell through. The claim failed.
These cases lead to an interesting argument as to whether reconstructing a particular art work can become an issue of copyright infringement.
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