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Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc. v. Buchel

United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
593 F.3d 38 (2010)


Facts

Christoph Buchel (defendant) was a Swiss artist known for creating elaborate, interactive artistic works. Buchel contacted the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MMCA) (plaintiff) to propose a large art installation at the MMCA entitled Training Ground for Democracy. Buchel spent 10 days at the MMCA in August 2006, during which Buchel designed the installation. MMCA agreed to buy the materials for the installation at MMCA’s own cost but under Buchel’s direction. Buchel was away from the MMCA for several months, during which time he sent detailed instructions to the MMCA regarding which materials to purchase and how to begin construction. In October 2006, the MMCA’s director, Joseph Thompson, made some decisions about the installation without consulting Buchel. Buchel was highly offended by Thompson’s actions. Buchel returned to the MMCA in late October. Buchel worked on the installation, including fixing work done by the MMCA that Buchel did not believe met his instructions. Buchel left for the holidays on December 17, intending to return January 3, 2007. However, the MMCA took some actions Buchel had forbidden, and Buchel refused to return unless the MMCA met certain conditions to address Buchel’s financial and artistic concerns. The MMCA’s staff continued work in Buchel’s absence, and allegedly showed the partially completed work without Buchel’s consent. In May 2007 The MMCA announced that the installation was cancelled. The MMCA allowed people to walk through the space to get to another exhibit. The existing work was covered with tarps. The MMCA filed for a declaration that it was entitled to present the installation to the public. Buchel counterclaimed, seeking damages and injunctive relief under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). The district court granted summary judgment to the MMCA, but the MMCA still removed the materials from the installation. Buchel appealed. 

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Lipez, J.)

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