Art law Controversies Germany

Beuys returns to Schloss Moyland

Museum risks €250,000 copyright fine

Joseph Beuys, left, and the Museum Schloss Moyland

The Museum Schloss Moyland in North Rhine-Westphalia, which houses the world’s largest Joseph Beuys collection, unveiled its refurbished interior last month. Photographs capturing a key 1960s performance by Beuys are, however, noticeably absent from the institution’s revamped displays. Eighteen photographs of the late German artist, taken during a performance in 1964 by Manfred Tischer, are not on view following a legal battle last year, though one image from this series will go on public display.

A German court ruled last year in favour of Eva Beuys, Joseph Beuys’ widow, in a trial concerning a 2009 exhibition at the Museum Schloss Moyland that included 19 photographs of Beuys taken by Tischer in 1964 (The Art Newspaper, November 2010). The Düsseldorf regional court ruled on 29 September 2010 that the museum breached the artist’s copyright and may not exhibit the images; the penalty for doing so is a potential fine of up to €250,000. The museum has appealed against the ruling; a decision is expected later this year.

A museum spokeswoman said the institution was able to show “one or two” images, as this constitutes “documentary photography of the action”. She added: “The Beuys estate didn’t want us to show the whole series because this ‘staccato’ could give a false impression of the real action.” The photographs document Beuys during the performance Das Schweigen von Marcel Duchamp ist ueberbewertet (Marcel Duchamp’s Silence Is Overrated), which he staged during a German television show. Beuys’ performance was not filmed and only Tischer’s photographs exist as a visual record. Beuys had granted Tischer permission to take the photographs but had apparently not authorised their display.

The disputed images are part of the museum’s 6,000-strong Beuys collection. “The Beuys estate gave permission to show other works [as part of the redesign], which are also published in the new museum guide,” said the spokeswoman.

The museum will present focal points of its collection in rotating exhibitions over three floors of the castle building which was redesigned by Hilmer & Sattler and Albrecht of Berlin.

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