Artist asks airport to stop dismantling work of art

Published on 7 May 2012 at 14:49

The sculptress, Alice Aycock, has petitioned a court in Manhattan to prevent Terminal One Group (part of JFK International Airport) destroying her sculpture “Star Sifter”.


In 1998 Terminal One Group asked Alice Aycock to produce a sculpture for JFK International Airport. The purpose of the sculpture was, among other things, to prevent passengers avoiding security checks by dropping objects through a gap between the second and first floors. According to Alice Aycock her sculpture was praised as an example of modern art at airports.


In December 2011 Terminal One Group announced, with no further explanation, that they wanted to remove the sculpture from the airport. Later it became clear that Terminal One Group needed this area for more dining space at the airport.


Alice Aycock claimed that it was laid down in her contract with Terminal One that the sculpture could only be removed if it was necessary to do so. This was, according to her, never demonstrated by Terminal One. She asked the court to stop Terminal One destroying the sculpture.


An artist’s opposition to the dismantling of his/her work is an interesting matter. If his/her objection succeeds then the owner of the work of art cannot abuse his/her title by dismantling the work.


In The Netherlands there was a case where an architect wanted to prevent the owner of a building which he had designed from pulling it down. This case led to a Supreme Court judgment dated 6th February, 2004.


The case concerned the office premises designed by the architect Evert Jelle Jelles for the firm Wavin, which were first used in 1967. The office (also known as the “Wavin Building”) was located by the water in a greenbelt area in the district of Holtenbroek near Zwolle. Subsequent to its use as office premises the building was used by Deltion College and finally it was sold to the municipality. In 1999 the municipality made an urban development proposal for the district. This plan comprised a new shopping centre, a multifunctional community centre and a health centre on and around the land on which the Wavin Building stood. As a result the Wavin Building would have to be demolished. Before adopting the proposal the municipality investigated the historical value of the Wavin Building. The municipality was advised to research to what extent the building could be reused. If the Wavin Building could be saved then placing it on the municipal list of historic buildings was a consideration.


Due to the presence of asbestos and the high costs of refurbishment, reuse of the building as an old peoples home was not feasible. Also, the community centre would not agree to being housed in the former office building. Therefore the municipality decided to pull the building down.


Jelles opposed this move and, in March 2000, started proceedings in the court in Zwolle, in which he invoked “copyright” as the architect. He claimed that attacking his work would be a violation of his good name and his status as an architect.


On 6th February, 2004 the Supreme Court decided that in the event of demolition or destruction there can be a violation of the “copyright” of the architect; but in this case the municipality had good reasons for demolishing the building and, as it acted with due care, there was no question of reputational damage. The decision also made clear that far- reaching protection of the interests of the architect, to the detriment of the owner of the building designed by him, would result in consequences which would be difficult to accept socially. The owner of a unique specimen (in this case a building) may however, according to the Supreme Court, not destroy it unless he has good grounds for doing so. Nevertheless if a building is demolished the owner should give the architect the opportunity to document the building properly. Incidentally, the Wavin Building was already demolished in 2003.


Comment Oostwaard
In short, the court will weight up the interests. This will be even more so in the Aycock case. After all “what is necessary”?


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