Alex Da Corte, whose small assemblages sell in the $18-25K range, recently tweeted, “Dear @Ivankatrump please get my work off of your walls. I am embarrassed to be seen with you.” He is part of an Instagram feed called “Dear Ivanka” in which artists under the umbrella of Halt Action Group (HAG) repost images of Ms. Trump paired with political appeals. The political appeals are perfectly legitimate protest. Demanding that an owner remove a piece of artwork is not.
Bloomberg just saved me a ton of work by figuring out how much the art in Ivanka Trump’s apartment is actually worth:
In one post, Trump shimmies in front of a Dan Colen “chewing gum” painting; a comparable work sold for $578,500 at Phillips New York in 2012. In another post, Trump’s child plays the piano in front of a ‘bullet hole’ silkscreen by Nate Lowman; a bullet-hole painting in the same palette sold for $665,000 in 2013 at Sotheby’s in New York. In yet another post, taken from a Harper’s Bazaar shoot, Trump poses at her dining table in front of a work by Alex Israel. A similar painting by Israel sold for $581,000 in 2014 at Phillips New York.
“It’s a moment of reckoning,” said Alison Gingeras of HAG. “Going forward, we need to think more carefully about how our work gets brought to the world, and who it’s sold to.”
Who are these semi-professional sans-culottes? Certainly not struggling artists. The majority of ‘emerging artists’—i.e., the rest of us—sell in the $100 to $5000 range. We are happy to sell our work at all. I, for one, never enquire into my buyers’ politics. I just smile as I cash the check.
The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) was the first national legislation in which ‘moral rights’ of artists were addressed. However, these are limited to the:
- right to claim authorship;
- right to prevent false attribution to works one didn’t create;
- right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author’s honor or reputation.
And of course, artists maintain copyright.
The client purchases the right to display and resell a piece of artwork. In other words, Alex Da Corte can’t demand that Ivanka Trump remove his painting from her home; she paid good money for that privilege. Her use of the artworks in tweets, however, sails a little closer to the wind. In considering copyright, the courts factor the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. For example, an aspiring Hitler can’t use a landscape to promote the Third Reich, even if he bought the painting. And your painting can’t be used to market whisky unless you get royalties.
And that’s the point on which the question turns. Until a few weeks ago, artists were chuffed to see their paintings in Ivanka Trump’s tweets. She was marketing herself as an urbane, sophisticated collector, and marketing them as the artists being collected by the cognoscenti.
What has changed? Nothing substantive, only the perception that she is part of the smart set. Since they were happy for her to do it last year, I doubt they can stop her from doing it next year.