Destructive & Offensive Art + Integrity of Art

“the urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”

- Pablo Picasso

The destruction of art and creating art that is offensive are major themes driving the story of our film. Our protagonist Oz Almog decides that his next exhibition will be to destroy the great body of work that made him famous. Being a provocateur he knows exactly the reaction he will receive. What he doesn’t know is who exactly he will be affecting with this offensive act. Destruction of art can happen through a natural process, an accident, or deliberate human involvement. Many works of visual art are intended by the artist to be temporary. They may be created in a media which the artist knows is temporary, such as sand, or they may be designed specifically to be destroyed. Often the destruction takes place during a ceremony or special event highlighting the destruction. Other works of art may be destroyed without the consent of the original artist or of the local community. In other instances, works of art may destroyed by a local authority against the wishes of the outside community. 

Oz's Nefarious Plan to "Burn the Jews" of his "Him Too?" Exhibition.

Oz Almog shows us thousands of his paintings stored in boxes, revealing to us the shocking fate he had planned for these paintings as the premise for his next exhibition. 

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We later discover that while Oz is having second thoughts about his plan to burn the paintings, he has in fact "defaced" some of them as part of a mosiac installation he is assembling instead.

A sculpture made to look like Judas and resemble a stereotypical Hasidic Jew was hanged and burned as part of an Easter ritual in the Polish town of Pruchnik on Good Friday in 2019. Hundreds of residents, including children, were said to have taken part, reportedly beating and burning the effigy. There were some anti-Semitic cries, such as “Five more hits for wanting compensation from Poland.”  Anti Semitism and the ritual of burning Jews is a disturbing theme that is touched on in the film where Oz Almog uses this  nightmare from our collective memories as fodder for his intended upcoming exhibition.

"Burn the Jews" - a 4 minute supplemental/bonus material short film 

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Examples of Art Destroyed by the Artist 

Dionysis Karipidis Mermaid Statue

This is a statue of a mermaid by Greek artist Dionysis Karipidis, which was created in 1997 on the Portokali beach in Chalkidiki, Greece, the birthplace of Aristotle. Two decades after making the statue, he was asked by the area’s tourist authorities to pay a fine for “destroying the natural landscape,” according to the Greek Reporter. The issue arose 20 years after he created it, when the artist, who has largely remained anonymous, received a letter from the local municipality levelling a 533 Euro fine for the work. In March 2014, Karipidis responded with his own letter stating that if he was forced to pay the fine, he would destroy his work. According to the town’s mayor the fine was imposed by the tourist authorities even though the municipality did not want the sculpture to be destroyed. Why did the authorities wait almost two decades to level the fine? Although the city tried to find ways through the red tape to rectify the situation, they were forced to try to collect it. Eventually they decided that the individuals who worked in the city would pay the fine personally. Unfortunately it was too late. They did not have enough time to sort out the issue. The mermaid in the rocks no longer exists. The art has been destroyed by the hands of its own maker. The artist took to his statue with a sledgehammer.

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Banksy Painting Shreds itself at Auction

In October 2018 auction house Sotheby’s sold a painting by British graffiti artist Banksy for $1.4 million. The piece was a copy of one of the artist’s most famous works, an image of a girl releasing a red balloon, and moments after it was sold, the painting self-destructed, shredding itself while onlookers watched. In a video, Banksy explained that he had secretly installed a shredder in the frame of the painting, titled “Girl with Balloon,” to destroy it if it ever went up for auction. The anonymous artist is known for creating satirical and subversive political art, and by shredding the painting, he essentially turned the auction itself into a work of art, quoting artist Picasso in an Instagram post: “the urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”  The buyer went through with the sale of the partially shredded painting, claiming it was now a piece of art history.  Which is now estimated to be worth more than $2 million dollars.

Michael Landry "Break Down"

In 2001 British contemporary artist Michael Landry created a performance art installation called "Break Down," in which he placed objects on a conveyor belt running into a machine that pulverized them. In the process, he destroyed all of his belongings -- 7,227 pieces in all -- including his own paintings and the art of his Young British Artist peers.During the course of two weeks, everything Landry owned -  clothes, love letters, artworks, his Saab 900 Turbo car, even his father’s sheepskin coat – was stripped, shredded, crushed, dismantled, or otherwise destroyed with the help of a team of 12 assistants, while listening to David Bowie and Joy Division. When they had finished, the artist owned nothing at all, apart from the blue boiler suit he had been wearing throughout. 

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(Credit: Break Down, Michael Landy, 2001. An Artangel commission/Parisa Taghizadeh)

From Claude Monet to Banksy, Why Do Artists Destroy Their Own Work?

Whether as a disavowal of one’s early output or because of simple frustration, some creative souls have relegated important pieces to history’s dustbin.

NY Times Style Magazine

OFFENDING THE CONTROVERSIAL OZ ALMOG

By Billie Mintz

 

When I first started filming controversial and neo-conceptualist Israeli artist, Oz Almog, he colorfully announced the big idea he had for his next exhibition. I was interviewing him for my documentary that profiled the history of his prolific and controversial career and he was giving me rare access to his process, personal life and studio - something he said he had never done before because he lacked trust in the way the media depicted him and their reputation to distort the truth. His description of his next exhibit that he was about to unveil, shocked me to my core. The concept, which he was extremely proud of, was so tasteless and terrifying and just so straight out wrong that it completely offended me. It was surely going to get a lot of negative attention - which is exactly what he was so proud of and intended to do.  Art has a history of offending people and Oz Almog has a history of this kind of offensive art.

 

Art galleries, artists, and their audience love to be shocked by controversial work in an industry that has had a long history in being designed and exhibited for that purpose.  Lucrative careers have launched and flourished utilizing this kind of approach. Controversial and provocative subject matter also gives in-your-face insight into the artist, reflecting their need for attention and the more offensive they are the less they can be ignored. This has become one of the deliberate strategies of many well known artist’s palette. Oz’s new exhibition idea  you should watch my film, Portrayal on documentary Channel to discover it for yourself) was most offensive because it an homage to the holocaust, concentration camps, and Nazism and is borderline antisemetic, itself. My first response (that I kept to myself) was that this ridiculed and trivialized the holocaust and when followed through he will receive a lot of negative attention (exacty what he wants) and in my opinion made light of the genocide (by gas and fire) of millions of jews in concentration camps, Auschwitz being the most notorious of the extermination centers. It was using and trivializing the holocuast for context of a conceptual performance where he would destroy thousands of works of his older art (portraits of famous Jewish people) in an exhibit called, “Burn the Jews”.  I became immediately worried about my own reputation for giving him a platform and that my film would be retaliated against for documenting what I thought to be a disgusting act. I questioned both the sanity of my subject and it was only two days into filming when I already began to  fear being associated with him. It took me a bit of coaching from my producer and lawyer Danny Webber (someone who has protected me for over two decades) that my job was to document and not hold an opinion. In time, I embraced the social suicide I felt Oz was committing and realized that this offensive behavior would also be good for my art - this documentary film that also had a dubious intention that I had yet revealed to my subject.

 

Artists presently and throughout history, including the galleries that exhibit them, the critics that write about them and the audiences that consume them, get away with what would normally be perceived immoral and hateful - but because it's labeled “art” - it is not just tolerated but in some cases heavily enjoyed. This sets up a very fine line between intolerance and entertainment that needs to be carefully navigated. Taking a note from Oz’s career, I too was making something potentially offensive, only instead of offending everyone I would just be offending one person - Oz.  To give some context, Oz Almog, is a brilliant mind and architect of offending people through his art. He has been coming up with some very provocative exhibitions that inspire people to look at things we never considered before and that perspective and introduction to issues we had not considered before is what makes him brilliant - aside from being a master artist.  in 1997, Oz created the exhibit, Shaheed, which was an exhibition of large print photographs that depicted severed and blood human body parts that belonged to suicide bombers. He took the pictures straight from the crime reports in Israel and blew them up (pun poorly intended) and called it art. Something so provocative, disturbing, and possibly exploitive, where in some cases human life was massacred by the dozens, yet museums and galleries actually put them up on display. It was a successful venture and Oz became infamous for being an attention seeking controversial and shocking artist that deliberately offends people. Other exhibits of his in this vein were “Bloc Brut: Transvestism and fatal accidents in auto-erotic activity” (1997) an exhibit of coroner police photos of people who died at their own hands in the midst of auto erotica, and Blood Addict: Strategic Poetry based on bloody scenes of Murder pictures of blood in a crime scene blown up to be textile art patterns. Oz pulled no punches in the past and his next one, he believed would make him famous. He shared his plans with me and even enlisted me to help with introductions at major galleries in New York or Los Angeles, places where he thought would get the most exposure. He thought he was making history. What he didn’t know at the time, that the film he was making was also offensive and that I was struggling with it because eventually I knew it would offend him. Portrayal was not only about Oz and his career but it was investigating and revealing something that he probably did not want exposed - the true story of his art that he was not aware I knew. I knew that exposing this truth would hurt and embarrass him yet I persisted because it was ”art" - something that Oz insisted was fair game. This was something that took me years of filming to come to terms with - my art would offend this sensitive, open, funny, brilliant, accomplished artist and damaged person and because it was deemed as good art - it was acceptable.  Unbeknownst to him, the film and these interviews were setting him up to be the antagonist in a plot he was unaware of and that weighed heavy on my conscience. I am not the kind of person that seeks to offend people and this was  what I was struggling with as I was making the film. I would repeatedly counsel with him in our time together asking him if it was okay that artists offended people and he continually assured me that it was our job.

 

“an artist should make whatever art he is compelled to make regardless who he hurts. If someone gets hurt then, bad luck”.

-Oz Almog

 

In some ways he was apologizing for what he had done and setting the stage and an alibi for the kind of offensive art that I was making - and I hoped that he would remember his advice to me when he discovered the context to which I was seeking it. The more he spoke about the artists right to offend the more justified and less bad I felt about making this film. In the end, although not the film's intention, apologetically offended him in the most graceful way you could expose someone for not telling the truth when confronting them with it on camera in the climax of the film. Realizing the entire set up as he watched his entire life of the past 30 years pass in front of him that instant he went silent, understanding that the jig was up. At the time I tried to keep him in the conversation (and on film) and reminded him of the advice he gave me not so long ago but he could not be reached. He kicked me and the film crew out of his studio and never spoke to me again. After several attempts to reconcile and work together in order to release the film as a team went unanswered, I can only be left with the philosophy that for Oz, art was supposed to be offensive - as long as it did not offend him.

Art Destroyed by Authorities & War

DESTROYING ERNST LUDWIG KIRCHNER

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Most people  do not know the name Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, or how prolific and important he was in the 1930's. That's because during the lead up to WWII his work was branded as "degenerate" by the Nazis, and in 1937 more than 600 of his works were destroyed.  While the destruction of “degenerate art” was a massive hit for modernism, perhaps no other artist was as shattered as this German expressionist. His carnal, vivid work where nudity and harsh lines were a defining theme drew the Nazi ire. As the Nazi party took power in Germany, it became impossible for Kirchner to sell his paintings. In 1937, he was forced to resign from the Prussian Academy of Arts. He was totally diminished. He thought it would be better to destroy his own artwork, and himself, rather than let the Germans do it. He tried to persuade his girlfriend to commit a joint suicide. She refused, but couldn't stop him. In 1938 Kirchner killed himself. One of his surviving paintings -- a street scene in Berlin -- sold in 2006 for $38 million dollars. And in Germany, a country whose rejection tortured him, Kirchner is now revered as one of its greatest modern artists.

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ISIS DESTROYS CULTURAL ARTIFACTS

The destruction of Mosul Museum artifacts became publicly known on February 26, 2015 when the group known as ISIL released a video showing their destruction.  The world was shocked by a five-minute video posted online by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showing its members toppling ancient statues inside the Mosul Museum, smashing them with sledgehammers, and pulverizing what remained with jackhammers. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) occupied the Museum as it was about to reopen after years of rebuilding. ISIL said that its statues were against Islam and threatened to destroy the museum's contents.

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Protecting the Integrity of Art:

 the Law of Moral Rights

By Danny Webber & Michael Sniderman
Hall Webber LLP

Overview:

“Moral rights” are a set of intellectual property rights that are held by authors, inventors and creators of original artistic works. While copyright generally deals with who can use an artistic work in a certain way, moral rights govern how the work is used. Moral rights recognize that an artistic work is not merely a tangible object, but an extension of an artist’s personality which should be upheld as the artist intended. Accordingly, moral rights are personal rights that demand a duty of respect for an author’s creative excellence, staying with the author even after a work is sold. The two central focuses of moral rights are (a) to keep a work in its authentic, original form to protect the creator’s integrity (referred to as the right of “integrity”), and (b) to protect the creator’s personal attachment to their creation (referred to as the right of “association”). These rights are intended to help authors of creative works ensure that their works are correctly attributed to them and that the works are made available in their original forms. While these rights have been recognized nearly worldwide, the extent of their application and effect has varied. Although moral rights have been present in international intellectual property law for more than a century, there nevertheless continues to be a lack of clarity surrounding moral rights and how they are applied. This has been problematic for artists, particularly in this digital age where most content can be accessed globally. Moral rights have proven to be useful in some situations, but they have been largely unable to enhance the ability of artists to control the fate of their works when commissioned by a company or another individual. Even where the law appears to allow artists to keep their moral rights, these artists often lack the bargaining power to retain them, and the economic interests of the commissioning party tend to win out.

 

History:

Early Origins, 19th Century France:

While the principles of “moral rights” can be traced back as far as ancient Rome, the concept was first formally recognized in France during the 19th century under the French term droit moral. Although France had codified economic intellectual property rights in the 1790s by giving all writers, music composers, painters and engravers the lifetime right to sell, authorize the sale of, and distribute their work, the law did not specifically provide for any non-economic rights. After the French Revolution, courts came to recognize the following four non-economic interests in creative work:

 

1.         Le droit à la paternité (the right of attribution)

2.         Le droit au respect de l’oeuvre (the right of integrity)

3.         Le droit de divulgation (the right of disclosure)

4.         Le droit de repentir or de retrait (the right of withdrawal)

 

The most important of these four rights are the right of attribution, which is the requirement to associate an author’s name with their work, and the right of integrity, which gives the author creative control over modifications to their work.An early case in 1814 saw a French court recognize the right of an author to prohibit a publisher from adding unauthorized amendments to his text. By making this ruling, the court acknowledged the author’s right of integrity and the rule against unauthorized modification. Likewise, court cases dealing with attribution rights quickly began to rise in numbers, with creators demanding that their name remain attached to their work (or the opposite, in the case of anonymous or pseudonymous authors).

 

International Adoption of the Berne Convention, 1928:

In 1886, copyright protections were harmonized internationally by the adoption of the Berne Convention, which required its member countries to protect international works under a certain set of standards. However, it was not until 1928 that moral rights were first recognized by the Berne Convention, as follows: Independent of the author's economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights, the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to the said work, which would be prejudicial to the author's honor or reputation. Accordingly, starting in 1928, the Berne Convention set international standards for the rights of integrity and attribution.

 

North American Recognition of Moral Rights:

Canada’s history with moral rights can be traced back to an amendment of its Criminal Code in 1915, which made it a criminal offence to change a copyrighted work or suppress a work’s authorship without consent. Canada further codified moral rights by amending its Copyright Act in 1931 to align its legislation with the Berne Convention. While Canada’s relationship to the Berne Convention after the 1920s became turbulent, the United States refused to accede to the convention until 1988, initially refusing to join largely due to the issue of moral rights and opposition from film producers and radio broadcasters, among other groups who were concerned that they would no longer have the ability to modify work to meet certain production standards. Even after joining, the United States was criticized for not adequately implementing moral rights protections in its legal framework. Since that time, there have been two significant additions to the United States’ treatment of moral rights. In 1990, the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) was implemented, granting authors of certain works the right to claim or disclaim authorship, along with the right to prevent distortion, mutilation or modification of their work. Secondly, in 1998, the United States made an addition to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to limit the removal, alteration or falsification of certain information in a copyrighted work, including the author’s name. While VARA was a step in the right direction, its application is limited to visual works that fall within a narrowly defined category - its protection only extends to paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and still photographic images produced for exhibition only and existing in single copies or limited editions of 200 or fewer copies signed and numbered by the artist. Although VARA does impose substantial protections for works that do fall within those categories, the application is extremely limited as to who can use it and in what situations.

 

Overall, the United States has shown a lack of enthusiasm for moral rights, placing a greater emphasis on the commercial exploitation of creative works. As a result, the United States has refused to include moral rights protections in bilateral and multilateral agreements with other nations. For example, both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) exclude moral rights; TRIPS, in particular, incorporates by reference all copyright provisions from the Berne Convention, with the explicit exception of moral rights. This has created an imbalance between parties subject to these agreements, as an American party would be able to invoke moral rights in other countries, but parties from those other countries would not be able to invoke moral rights in the United States.

 

Inconsistencies of Moral Rights Laws:

While the Berne Convention offered a certain approach to conceptualizing moral rights as separate from economic rights, member nations nevertheless have discretion regarding how they choose to implement these protections. As such, there is no universal moral rights framework, and how moral rights are recognized can differ significantly depending on the country. One aspect of moral rights that varies among countries is the concept of “waivability”. Although moral rights are frequently described as “inalienable”, many countries allow authors to relinquish or “waive” these rights. In fact, some countries such as Canada have codified waivability in their copyright legislation. While the ability to waive moral rights may seem undesirable for the author, it can be a way, for example, to demand a higher licensing fee in exchange for the author’s waiver of moral rights, thereby permitting the licensee to use the work freely. However, creative professionals often lack this bargaining power and are forced to waive their moral rights for no additional fees, giving artists few options to protect their rights. Another aspect of moral rights that can differ between countries is the duration of the rights. In Canada, moral rights last for 50 years after the author’s death. In the United States, moral rights expire immediately upon the death of the author. On the other end of the spectrum, in France, moral rights last in perpetuity.

 

Moral Rights and Employment:

Different countries also have varying regulations regarding how moral rights are treated in employment or “work-for-hire” relationships. In Canada, the creator of a copyrighted work owns the moral rights to that work regardless of whether it was created in the context of employment; accordingly, employment contracts often include a waiver of moral rights. In the United States, VARA contains a “work made for hire” exception, whereby artwork created by an employee within the scope of employment is denied protection. Similar to the United States, many jurisdictions deny moral rights, including the right of attribution, to individuals employed to create a work. When an artist is commissioned to create a work, there is a conflict between artistic and economic freedom. On the one hand, an artist should retain their moral rights and artistic integrity in order to control their work. However, if a work has been commissioned for financial gain, the commissioner has an interest in maximizing the economic benefits of the work unencumbered by the artist’s personal attachment. This economic interest is seen in some jurisdictions, including the United States, where companies are deemed to be the “authors” of their employees’ creative works, severing the link between moral rights and individual creativity and consequently negating the purpose of moral rights. Even if creative works are not automatically assigned to an employer or the party commissioning a work, authors of creative works generally have little latitude to negotiate the issue of moral rights, often being forced to sign a waiver, surrendering such rights. This is problematic for American artists in particular, since the United States’ refusal to protect its own authors’ attribution rights does not technically breach international obligations under the Berne Convention.Similarly, international agreements such as the Berne Convention offer little help to authors receiving proper credit, since they do not dictate how employee authors should be credited, if at all. Accordingly, it falls on specific countries to decide whether an employee’s name must appear on a creative work, leading to a confusing and inconsistent system.

 

Popular Examples:

Michael Snow - Flight Stop (Canada): In 1982, artist Michael Snow brought an action against the Toronto Eaton Centre which, during the Christmas season, dressed his sculpture Flight Stop with red ribbons. Snow invoked the moral right of integrity by arguing that the ribbons had distorted his work without his permission. 

The court agreed with Snow, finding that the Eaton Centre had indeed offended Snow’s reputation, partially based on testimony from other artists in the community.

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  • Created: 2 July 2006

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Monty Python (United States): In 1976, the British comedy group Monty Python used the right of integrity by claiming that the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) had damaged their reputation by editing their shows by deleting content, largely in order to make room for commercials.

The court sided with Monty Python and agreed that the editing had impaired the integrity of the work, causing damage to their reputation.Even though United States law did not yet recognize the concept of moral rights, the court found a way to uphold the right of integrity by relying on contract law, as the contract between the two parties did not allow ABC to make edits.

5Pointz (United States): In the early 2000s, graffiti artists were hired to convert a row of dilapidated warehouses in New York into what became a globally recognized exhibition space for street art. In 2013, a real estate development company whitewashed the exterior of the 5Pointz warehouse without notice prior to building luxury condos on the site, leading to a lawsuit from the artists for the destruction of their artwork.The court sided with the graffiti artists, ordering the developers to pay $6.8 Million USD in damages, basing its judgment on VARA and the right of integrity held by the artists which protects destruction of artistic works.

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