Artists and Rights Violation


    The most important best cases to know

    After the sale of his work, an artist continues to exercise his rights, also deciding to disown his work if its physical integrity is altered from its original status.

    Here are the most important, plus a recent one

    Photo Credits: the “Log Cabin Facade” by the artist Cady Noland

    For an artist selling a work of art is always a joy and a pain: but how does the relationship between artist and work of art change legally after the sale?

    We assume that with the sale of the work, the artist does not cease to exercise rights over it. 

    The Law on Copyright (Law no. 633 of 22 April 1941 and subsequent amendments) guarantees the author of a work, together with the patrimonial right to exploit it, also the moral right to claim paternity, opposing modifications or interventions to the detriment of the work itself, including those that alter the way it is presented to the public, as desired and imagined by the artist.

    Often the rights of artists, especially moral rights, are underestimated: over the years there has been no lack of legal disputes between collectors, gallery owners and artists who, seeing their work altered with respect to its original status, choose to sue and even disown the work.


    Among the most recent episodes, that of the artist Pat Lipsky who sued the Spanierman Gallery in New York and the Artspace platform, invoking the Artist Authorship Rights Act (1984) of the State of New York, which gives artists the right to claim or deny the authorship of a work and to oppose its exhibition, publication or reproduction in an altered form.

    Lipsky’s protest stems from the fact that the images used to sell her painting “Bright Music II” (1969) online had been manipulated, altering the composition and light of the original to mask the damage of time and that this would have caused a sharp drop in sales of her work. The artist stated that he did not only aspire to compensation for the damage suffered, but also to denounce the behavior of online galleries, for the artist too focused on the economic result and disrespectful of the artist and the work in its essence.

    But even in the past there have been other cases of artists who did not like conservation or real restoration work on their works.


    We remember Cady Noland, an artist engaged in a complex dispute against a German gallery and collector Scott Mueller. The latter, after having purchased in 1990 the work “Log Cabin Facade”, a sculpture representing the façade of a chalet made of wooden logs, decided to resell the work through the German gallery after having it restored, replacing all the parts of which it was composed. Despite its loyalty to the original project, Noland did not like the operation without its consent, thus opposing the sale on the basis of the rules introduced in 1990 by the Visual Artists Right Act (VARA), which give the artist the right to renounce the authorship of the work.

    There have been artists who have come to disown their work.


    Among the most striking is the case of the German artist who entirely disowned all the works derived from his youth in Germany, because they were made in a style that he no longer felt was his own. 

    The Italian Giorgio De Chirico refused all his works from the pre-metaphysical period, therefore prior to 1939. Finally, the Scottish artist Peter Doig, in 2016, was summoned to court by the Federal Court of Chicago for refusing to issue the authentication of a work that he did not recognize as his own and denying any possibility of attribution: the court thus certified the truthfulness of Doig’s statements.

    The works of art are part of the artist himself, they are his representation, so it becomes fundamental for the collector, as well as for the gallery owners, to keep faith with their own nature, respecting the creativity and inalienable rights of the artists who created them. 

    In order to do this, it is necessary to contact professionals in the sector who work in dialogue with the artists before carrying out any intervention on the work, whether it be digitization for online sales, or a conservation and restoration intervention, as Isabella Villafranca Soissons, Director of the Department of Conservation and Restoration of Open Care in Milan explains in this interview on the restoration of contemporary artworks.

    And you, do you know your rights?


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