Gover, K. E.. Artistic Freedom and Moral Rights in Contemporary Art: The Mass MoCA Controversy
2011, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 69 (4):355-365.
Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir
Introduction: The concept of artistic freedom, like that of academic freedom, is as potent as it is slippery. Its indeterminacy may in fact lend the concept some power, since it can be uncritically applied to many different kinds of situations involving artists and their creations. Philosopher Paul Crowther has observed that the prevailing conception of artistic freedom is essentially negative in character: it is based 'purely on the absence of ideological or conceptual restraint.' There is a widespread art-world intuition that the creative freedom of the artist should be given virtually absolute precedence in decisions about the creation, exhibition, and treatment of artworks. As a recent controversy involving Swiss artist Christoph Buchel and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) shows, the dominant conception of artistic freedom also entails freedom from financial and logistical constraints such as museum budgets and exhibition deadlines. In this particular case, the artist and his supporters argued that the museum violated his artistic freedom by attempting to display his unfinished and abandoned artwork against his wishes. As with the Tilted Arc controversy in the 1980s, this case raises provocative questions about the nature of artistic freedom as 'artistic' as it comes into conflict with the needs and interests of the institutions that pay for, exhibit, and, in Mass MoCA's case, construct the work.
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