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LA MOCA’s Vuitton-Murakami Morass (and Brooklyn’s non-response)

MurakPrt.jpg
Three limited-edition “Monogramouflage” canvases in the Vuitton boutique at the Brooklyn Museum’s recent Murakami show

I’ve always thought that ceding a museum’s nonprofit space to a for-profit Louis Vuitton boutique (as occurred at the Takashi Murakami retrospective at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Brooklyn Museum) was a bad idea and an even worse precedent.

But never did I anticipate the negative outcome that has now occurred. As most of you by now probably know, the show has ended but the bad taste lingers on: LA MOCA is now stuck with defending itself in court against a lawsuit by someone who bought limited edition Murakami canvases at the museum’s Vuitton shop. The plaintiff, Clint Arthur, says those works lacked documentation legally required in California. (Mike Boehm of the LA Times article describes the lawsuit in greater detail here.)

Unsurprisingly, Vuitton, through a spokesperson, told me that “this lawsuit has no merit” and added: “We intend to vigorously defend ourselves against this baseless litigation.” All the same, officials at the Brooklyn Museum, where the show and its handbag emporium have just closed, must be biting their fingernails.

While the show was still open, I asked Adam Husted, Brooklyn’s media relations manager, whether there were any signs that his museum might be drawn into a similar lawsuit. (New York’s print-disclosure statute was modeled on California’s and contains similar requirements for documentation.)

Husted’s reply:

The Museum is not being sued and there are no indications that we may
be. Vuitton is solely responsible for the store. I believe that the
works [the limited-edition canvases] are still on sale, but Vuitton would have to confirm that and
whether anything has changed.

Museums cannot afford—ethically or (in light of the possible legal costs) financially—to disclaim knowledge or responsibility for what goes on smack in the middle of their own exhibitions. After what happened in LA, Brooklyn had little excuse for eschewing due diligence—especially since the dispute involved the sale of artworks within the confines of an art museum.

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