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Serra Threatens to Withdraw Work from the Broad Collection

Serra’s installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011.
The United States Destroys  Art (1989) is on right. 
According to The Art Newspaper, Richard Serra is threatening to remove a piece from the Eli and Edythe Broad Collection.  The issue boils down to dating.  

Richard Serra in front of one of his
monolithic installations.

Serra is well known for reworking and recreating works that are damaged and destroyed.  Recently, Serra resurfaced The United Stated Government Destroys Art in the collection of Eli and Edythe Broad.  The Broad’s, now the Broad Art Foundation, plan to date the work to reflect the changes.  Yet, Serra is arguing that the work should remain dated to 1989 when the work was originally completed.

The drawing was part of Serra’s Metropolitan Museum of Art retrospective in 2011.  The Met resolved the issue of dating by labeling the pieces with two dates– the first representing the original date of completion and the second identifying the date of modification.  Magdalena Dabrowski, curator of the Serra retrospective, explained the dating of The United States Government Destroys Art: “Serra felt that 1989 was the inception and therefore the drawing was only a 1989 work.  Moral rights gave him the right to date as opposed to historical accuracy.”

The Visual Artists Rights Act (1990) does give Serra the right to date works as he deems appropriate. 17 USC § 106A (McKinney 1990).  Serra argues that although the drawing was resurfaced, the concept remains the same.  He stated: “Let me put it this way: usually… if a work is destroyed or damaged and there is the possibility of recovering it, then if it can be saved, I try to save it…. I think it’s my responsibility to make sure the work exists in the way I want it to exist.”  

Tilted Arc, 1981, Federal Plaza NYC, removed
March 15, 1989.

Serra’s sensitivity to VARA is understandable, but he has never exercised his right to disclaim authorship of a work.  He previously threatened to disclaim authorship of Titled Arc during government proceedings to remove the work from Federal Plaza in New York City.  The installation was removed, following massive controversy, in March 1989.  Since VARA became effective in December 1st, 1990, Serra had no moral rights over Titled Arc.  The naming of The United States Government Destroys Art drawing, created itself in 1989, reflects his feelings toward the incident and is possibly the motivation behind Serra’s potential VARA claim.  The action would certainly be symbolic.    

When The Art Newspaper questioned Serra about his plans he only answered, “That’s hypothetical.”    The issue has yet to be resolved and legal action is possible down the road.  It is a situation to watch carefully since VARA is still being tested in court and has only recently begun to build precedent.     

Sources: The Art Newspaper, The Huffington Post, “A Guide to the Visual Artists Rights Act” by Cythia Esworthy