Three incidents that Show What Happens When Art and Law Goes Head to Head
Art is often subversive and it’s not unusual for artists to get in trouble with the law for taking outrageous stands. Although this was common in ancient times, it may be shocking to discover how often it occurs in the modern-day. This article will look at individuals who have come under fire for using their creativity to make waves.
The 27-year-old artist and LGBTQ activist YuliaTsvetkova is currently on trial in Russia. She is charged with disseminating pornography due to creating artwork featuring the human body.
Tsvetkova is no stranger to fighting the law when it comes to the pieces she creates. The artist, who had an exhibition of her work in St. Petersburg April 10–11, 2021, had previously come out with a “Family is Where Life is” 2013 drawing of two same-sex couples which was found to be in violation of Russia’s gay propaganda law and to advocate the denial of traditional family values. The government canceled a youth festival she had organized for similar reasons in 2019.
She has also been fined in December 2019and July of 2020 for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors”. Each offense set her back 50,000 rubles ($780).
The current case is based on the artist’s role as the founder of the Vagina Monologues, a feminist, body-positive online community. As part of her campaign, she released a work showing women in various states of undress with encouraging images like “Real women have body fat and it’s normal”.
The charges against her fit into the government’s stance of protecting traditional values. However, defenders argue that celebrating the beauty of the female anatomy should not be considered pornography. They further claim that the charges against her are part of the regime’s efforts to maintain a political hold on Russia.
Tsvetkova is currently under house arrest. If she is found guilty, she could face six years in jail.
NIKE vs. MSCHF
Sneaker styles may be getting more unusual as the days go by, but when the art design collective MSCHF teamed up with rapper Lil Nas X to release Satan Shoes, a modified pair of Nike Air Max 97s sneakers with drops of blood mainlined into the soles, Nike decided they were going too far.
Satan Shoes were released on Friday, March 26, the eve of Holy Week which coincided with the premiere of the rapper’s video for the song “Montero (Call Me BY Your Name)”. The song is a queer interpretation of biblical stories.
The shoes were priced at $1018 a pair and made in a limited edition of 666 pairs. They sold out in less than a minute.
Nike was not a fan of the sneakers and sued MSCHF for trademark infringement. More recently, the two parties came to an out-of-court settlement. The collective will be offering a full refund to anyone that purchased Satan shoes.
They will also offer a money-back to those who purchased Jesus Shoes, an altered pair of Nike Air Max sneakers with holy water from the River Jordan injected into the soles.
Whether buyers will be selling their shoes back is another matter. Owners will have little incentive considering the sneakers are currently being sold on eBay for prices that range from $3800 to $6666.
The Met’s Use of Eddie Van Halen’s Image
Sometimes people are so committed to displaying noteworthy pieces of art, they may not consider copyrights. This was an issue taken into consideration when the Metropolitan Museum of Art used a concert image of Eddie Van Halen taken by Florida-based photographer Lawrence Marano in an online catalog for the 2019 exhibition, “Play it Loud: Instruments of Rock n Roll”. The exhibit featured Van Halen’s Frankenstein guitar.
Marano sued the Met arguing that he never granted permission for the photo to be used. The lawsuit was dismissed by a U.S. District judge who ruled that Marano“failed to show that the Met’s use of the image is not protected by fair use exception.” The judge found that the photo was used for educational purposes and therefore, did not violate copyright law.
Marano appealed the case but three judges in New York’s Second Circuit Court upheld the original ruling.
The court’s decision is important because it recognizes that museums and cultural institutions have the freedom to use historical artifacts to enrich art objects and the public learning experience.
Artists who are passionate about their work will go to great lengths to make a statement whether it’s putting blood in shoes, creating subversive images, or using materials that they may or may not have the right to use. Their focus is to educate and to make people pay attention. Legal matters are secondary.
While not everyone benefits from this controversial spirit, it’s wonderful to see that it continues to exist. It will keep the art world interesting and inspire coming generations to speak their minds.