Mike Kelley Foundation could follow Rauschenberg’s lead over image copyright

How to support scholarship among hot topics at Berlin conference on keeping artists’ names alive

The Mike Kelley Foundation could follow the example of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, which has allowed artists, scholars and educators to use copyrighted images free of charge and without having to obtain written approval since February. John Welchman, the chair of the foundation’s board, said that “wearing my academic hat”, he is a professor at the University of California, San Diego, he supported the Rauschenberg Foundation’s move. He told The Art Newspaper, “we are discussing it," at the Mike Kelley Foundation. Easing restrictions would have to formally be "put on the table", he said. Welchman was speaking yesterday in Berlin at a conference on the challenges facing the heirs and executors of artists’ estates (14-15 September).

Reducing barriers to publishing images of Rauschenberg’s work through social media as well as museum and scholarly publications has resulted in a “profound bump” since it adopted the new policy at the end of February, said Christy MacLear, the chief executive officer of the Rauschenberg Foundation. “The benefits outweigh the income we lost.” She added that it took just one meeting to ok the artist Rachel Harrison’s use of Rauschenberg images in her work and that several other artists’ foundations had expressed an interest in how it is increasing access to high-quality images accompanied by accurate information.  

For-profit users still need permission and are charged a fee, income from which goes towards the foundation’s philanthropic work, which includes around 100 artists’ residencies a year at Captiva, Rauschenberg’s home and studio in Florida, as well as a planned catalogue raisonée.

For Mayen Beckmann, however, image royalities are helping the Max Beckmann Archive fund a revised catalogue of his paintings, a new catalogue of his drawings and a new edition of his notes, which will show her grandfather in a less flattering light than the version edited by the artist’s widow. Mayen Beckmann said that she hoped these would be completed by 2020 when copyright of her grandfather’s works comes to an end. Marc Waugh, the head of research of the UK non-profit Dacs, which manages artists’ visual rights, pointed out that educational and museum publications are still paid for and so the distinction between for-profit and non-profit is not clear cut. Artists are always told it is “good for their profile”, but they should still receive remuneration, he said.   

Meanwhile, Flavin Judd, the co-president of the Judd Foundation, also spoke at the event organised by the Berlin-based Institute for Artists’ Estates, about preserving his father’s legacy, which famously includes much real estate in Marfa, Texas, and his home and studio at 101 Spring Street in New York. Flavin Judd revealed that had Donald Judd been able to buy property in Mexico, his “antidote” to New York would have been in Baja California. Instead Donald Judd bought land and property in Marfa. Flavin Judd admitted he often wondered: “What were you thinking Don? Leaving all of this with no funding.”

Among those attending the conference were representatives from several artists’ estates and foundations, including the Henry Moore Foundation—Mary Moore, the artist daughter was among the speakers—the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, the estate of Philippe Vandenberg, the Maria Lassnig Stiftung and Gerhard Richter Archive.