Friday, August 12, 2011

Fake Art in Public Places

I recently wrote an article for The Art Newspaper (here) on what appears to be an industry of sculpture-faking which has emerged as a result of the Art in Public Places scheme in California.

Many of the works in question — unauthorised copies (left) by Chinese craftsmen of an original 1992 work by the Californian sculptors Don Wakefield and Chick Glickman — are situated in the grounds of the Olen Property Corporation's buildings in Newport Beach and Brea, California and have benefited from the Art in Public Places policy used in many US cities. This is how the Public Art scheme works:

Under the current Art in Public Places Policy, developments with a total building valuation of 1.5 million dollars ($1,500,000) or more are required to integrate publicly visible sculptures into their development projects. The artwork is regarded as an on-site amenity, a fixed asset on the property.

Developers are responsible for selecting an artist, commissioning the artwork, and maintaining the artwork. Each developer submits their proposed artwork for review by the Art in Public Places Advisory Committee, which reviews the artwork application based upon policy-defined criteria, such as the artist’s qualifications and the durability of materials. The developer is required to put one per cent of the total development budget towards the art.

The Olen Corporation is owned by the Florida-based billionaire property developer and convicted tax felon Igor Olenicoff who has real estate holdings in California, Arizona and Florida. He acquired the 'fake' sculptures in China during the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and subsequently instructed the craftsmen there to adapt one of them from Wakefield's original design (image right shows Don Wakefield making the original work in a photograph date-marked 18 June 1992). The copies are now distributed around Olenicoff's corporate properties in Newport Beach and surrounding areas, including the City of Brea.

In the first instance, if these works are indeed unauthorised copies — and all the available evidence seems to suggest that they are — and if a craftsman (Chinese or otherwise) has been prepared to adapt the work of another artist without that artist's consent, this would likely constitute a breach of copyright under the Fair Use application. This would represent a breach of Mr Wakefield's moral rights as an artist which would have serious legal implications.

More importantly, the City of Brea seems to be failing to collect the comprehensive information on the artist, which is required under the regulations of the Art in Public Places scheme. Olenicoff has also declined to reveal the identity of the Chinese craftsmen. If the City of Brea is failing to collect the necessary information from the developer, it is, by default, encouraging the abuse of the scheme, in this case by allowing developers to use Chinese craftsmen to copy works at a fraction of the cost of the original. Whether this is a way for corporate developers to save money remains unclear, but it is in everyone's interest to ensure that the rights of artists are not abused by corporations.

I approached a Beijing-based stone-carving company and requested an estimate to make a single copy of Don Wakefield's 1992 sculpture based on a photograph. I was quoted $1,250, with the price dropping to $950 per unit for three. According to Wakefield, to make an original, unique work today of the kind he and Glickman made in 1992 would cost around $35,000. As they say in the States, do the math.

There is also the critical issue of how many other works might have been copied from original sculptures by other artists without their original creator's consent. The City of Brea appears to be turning a blind eye to this by not demanding comprehensive biographical information about the artists whose work is used in the Art In Public Places scheme. I have requested clarification of this from the City of Brea and from the Public Art authorities in Newport Beach, but have received no response.

We need to know the exact source of the sculptures acquired by Olen Corp. and the identity of the craftsman from whom Olenicoff commissioned the copied and adapted works. It would also be interesting to know how many other sculptures from the Chinese source have been used by Olen Corporation in Newport Beach and Brea. All this information ought to be on file under the Art in Public Places scheme.