Sunday, June 04, 2006

Image Rights and criticism

ArtWatch International reports (free registration required) that a small Italian museum, Museo Civico Giovanni Fattori, refused to allow Apollo Magazine to publish a photo of Christ Crowned with Thorns in James Beck's review of the Metropolitan's Fra Angelico exhibition (another free registration required).

The ArtWatch web page's teaser for their editorial says 'Museums Use Image Rights to Hamper Criticism'. It's unclear if any hampering occurred, as Beck's review included Christ Crowned with Thorns. Reproduction rights were received or were unnecessary. ArtWatch doesn't tell us which, choosing instead reminding us of the chilling effect of copyright on art criticism.

Beck doubted the chronology of Fra Anglico's life as offered by the exhibition catalog. Beck's points irritated the Museo, which threatened copyright litigation even though fifteenth century paintings probably aren't copyrightable.

Museums must learn that if their feelings will be hurt by negative reviews of their scholarship they probably shouldn't loan their works to US museums. We have a free art press.

A decent-sized Christ Crowned with Thorns can already be found on the Internet without the hassle of free registration. Free digital copies of fine art and antiquities will soon be the norm for important pieces. Cameras and disk space are cheap. In the future 15th century paintings will be freely discussed by all — no matter whose scholarship gets ridiculed.

In the meantime, I still cannot find pictures of the coins in the Lydian Hoard, recently stolen from the Uşak Archaeological Museum.

The Metropolitan Museum — the same museum having trouble with photo rights to Christ Crowned with Thorns — gave the actual Lydian treasure to Turkey. I wish The Met had chosen to give scholars some high-resolution copyright-free photos. Seems a shame to pack up a famous treasure and send it to a tiny regional museum in Turkey (where less than 800 people saw it in five years) yet ignore a billion Internet users. Many of us on the Internet enjoy pictures of our global heritage.

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