V is for VARA

| May 4, 2014

VARA is the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990. I referenced VARA in my last post U is for Unfinished. This is a law that protects artist rights. Before 1990 artists could not protect their work from mutilation, misattribution, or destruction.

The artists rights outlined under VARA are the right to claim authorship, the right to prevent the use of one’s name on any work the author did not create, the right to prevent use of one’s name on any work that has been distorted, mutilated, or modified in a way that would be prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation and the right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author’s honor or reputation. Works or authors of works of a “recognized stature prohibits intentional or grossly negligent destruction of a work. In the United States authors/artists can waive these rights whereas in France and other European countries they cannot. If not waived these rights persist for the life of the author, or the surviving author of the joint work.

Why would there need to be a law for this? Examples of tragic cases before 1990 include the case of William Smith in 1966, commissioned to create 9 murals about Maryland’s history, the central panel was altered but his name was still attributed to the piece. In 1979 a Richard Serra work Titled Arc located in Manhattan’s Foley Square was removed.  A Noguchi sculpture was destroyed by Bank of Tokyo who had commissioned the work, without informing the artist in 1980.

An instance where an artist invoked VARA is the Buchel case at MassMoCA that I discussed in U is for Unfinished.