Amy Adler, Emily Kempin Professor of Law, published an article in the California Law Review a few years ago, taking issue with a body of “moral rights” law—far-reaching in Europe, much less so in the U.S.—that gives visual artists the right to protect the integrity of their creations, even when they are owned by others. Under laws in effect today, for example, Leonardo da Vinci could prevent a purchaser of the Mona Lisa from drawing a mustache on it.
But moral rights laws “endanger art in the name of protecting it,” Adler argues in her article, “Against Moral Rights.” “The right of integrity threatens art because it fails to recognize the profound artistic importance of modifying, even destroying, works of art, and of freeing art from the social control of the artist.” As Marcel Duchamp once exhorted, “Use a Rembrandt as an ironing board.”
And so it was last month that Adler offered up four bound copies of “Against Moral Rights,” for a bit of creative destruction. She distributed them, along with a pair of scissors, to students in her Art Law class, and let them have at it. The students applied lipsticky kisses to the article, spilled on it, cut it up, drew on it, folded it, wrote on it, added objects, crossed out some portions and tore up others. Michael Calb ’13 wrote a check to Adler for “minus one million dollars” and stapled it to a page.
The end result of this exercise was not confined to the classroom: “Cut Piece(2) by Amy Adler and 109 Art Law students” (the title pays homage to a performance-art work by Yoko Ono) went on display at a nearby gallery staging a show on art and law. Adler notes that the students’ piece was displayed alongside work of important contemporary artists, including Ai Weiwei, Christoph Büchel, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
“Good art lawyers really need to understand contemporary art, and by making this work, the students showed how much they’re learning about art as well as law,” Adler said. “I was so impressed.”
She declined to discuss her plans for the negative $1 million.
View photos from the opening night of the art show:
Posted March 19, 2013