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Big Mess at MASS MoCA

MASS MoCA has a distinguished track record for collaborating amicably and productively with artists creating highly ambitious projects to full its gargantuan main installation space. Those pieces, including Tim Hawkinson‘s “Uberorgan” and Cai Guo-Qiang‘s “Inopportune,” sometimes have an ongoing life at major institutions, after their fabrication and display in North Adams, MA.
So today’s NY Times report by Randy Kennedy on the expensive, knock-down, drag-out debacle involving Christoph Büchel‘s partly completed project, “Training Ground for Democracy,” comes as a cautionary tale, demonstrating that sometimes trust between an artist and an institution just isn’t enough. I imagine that Wharton graduate Joseph Thompson, director of MASS MoCA, will from now on be more rigorous in specifying allowable costs and other conditions, prior to engaging future artists to use his institution’s generous space and resources.
Meanwhile, he’s got to deal with Büchel’s attorney, Donn Zaretsky, who, it appears, will be meeting MASS MoCA in court. The institution wants permission to show the project in its unfinished state. So far, there’s been no public talk, from either side, about seeking any monetary damages. And not a word about the situation (for understandable reasons) appears in Zaretsky’s own Art Law Blog.
Zaretsky did tell Kennedy: “To me, this is an unheard of, unprecedented act, for a fine-art museum to go to court to try to show an artist’s work in an unfinished state.”
MASS MoCA is making the best of a bad situation by showcasing the work behind its many happy-ending installations, in Made at MASS MoCA, a documentary project opening Saturday, .
Earlier reports on the dispute, by Geoff Edgers of the Boston Globe, are here and here. (The latter includes the artist’s specific demands.)
UPDATE: Another Edgers story in the Globe, the day after Kennedy’s, is here.

UPDATE 2
: Starting May 23, Edgers is posting by installments, in his Exhibitionist blog, Büchel’s side of the story, sent to the Globe in March.
Click the link below for MASS MoCA’s press release, not posted on its website at this writing (as far as I can see), which explains the situation from its side.


Presentation of Training Ground for Democracy Cancelled
New Exhibition, Made at MASS MoCA, to Open on Saturday, May 26
MASS MoCA to Seek Declaratory Ruling to Show Materials Assembled for Cancelled Training Ground for Democracy
(North Adams, Mass. ) 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.
“We put great effort into the Training Ground for Democracy installation, doubling our project budget and increasing the available time for installation by a factor of three. In addition we’ve made available to Mr. Büchel significant additional funding to return and complete the work,” said MASS MoCA Director Joseph C. Thompson. “Despite this, Mr. Büchel has so far not returned to North Adams to finish the work. With Made at MASS MoCA we are using this and our other experiences working with artists such as Gregory Crewdson, Cai Guo-Qiang, Ann Hamilton, Tim Hawkinson, Matthew Ritchie, and Robert Wilson — to name a few — to provide our audience with thought-provoking insights into the complexities of the art-making process.”
MASS MoCA’s mission is to serve as a laboratory for art-making, and the institution has worked closely with artists to produce over 60 major works of visual art and over 40 works of performing art since the launch of its earliest projects in 1996. As a core part of its mission MASS MoCA routinely opens its spaces to the public as “galleries-turned-workshops” during the fabrication period. To determine whether MASS MoCA can make the abandoned materials and partial constructions of Training Ground for Democracy accessible to museum visitors as an open back lot workshop, the institution is seeking a declaratory ruling in the United States District Court, Springfield, Massachusetts . As part of the proceedings, Büchel will have the opportunity to present his perspective.
“We believe that the raw materials and partially completed scenarios speak for themselves, providing important insight into the intricacies of creating art in our day and time,” added Thompson. “We have asked the court to affirm our right to present these materials — clearly labeled as unfinished — to the public, through a declaratory ruling. If Mr. Büchel responds in a timely fashion, we are confident the court will resolve the matter quickly.”
Made at MASS MoCA
Made at MASS MoCA will examine some of the many ways in which MASS MoCA has worked with a wide range of visual and performing artists over more than a decade. In addition to serving as a presenter — the conventional role of museums — MASS MoCA is also a fabricator of large-scale works, a host for extended artist residencies, and a collaborator and co-producer. The exhibition looks at the implications of those differing roles and relationships and how they are relevant to the making and distribution of art today.
“Made at MASS MoCA will give our visitors insight into how major works of art take shape and will convey what we mean when we say that MASS MoCA is an open platform for research and development in the arts,” said Thompson. “When you are committed to experimenting on a large scale, the results can be unexpected. Not everything works. ”
Due to the space constraints imposed by the materials assembled for Training Ground for Democracy, the exhibition Made at MASS MoCA is being presented in MASS MoCA’s only remaining available gallery space. To enter Made at MASS MoCA, visitors will pass through the Building 5 gallery housing the materials and unfinished fabrications that were to have comprised elements of Training Ground for Democracy. Reasonable steps have been taken to control and restrict the view of these materials, pending a court ruling which is being sought by MASS MoCA.
Training Ground for Democracy
If the court allows the view-restricting measures to be removed, the materials assembled for Training Ground for Democracy would become available for viewing. In that case, the public could see the large quantity of materials and constructed scenarios gathered and placed in MASS MoCA’s football-field-size Building 5 Gallery, including a two-story Cape Cod-style house, a movie theater, cinder block walls, numerous sea containers, a mobile home, multiple vehicles, and thousands of found objects.

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