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Rauschenberg first, Kelley next? More foundations may ease image restrictions

Mike Kelley Foundation considering free reuse for non-profits

The Mike Kelley Foundation could follow the example of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in allowing artists, scholars and educators to use its copyright images free of charge and without written approval. John Welchman, the chair of the Kelley board, said that “wearing my academic hat”—he is a professor at the University of California, San Diego—he is in favour. He was speaking in Berlin last month, at a conference on the challenges facing the heirs and executors of artists’ estates. He confirmed that the foundation is discussing whether to ease restrictions, but added that this would have to be “put on the table” formally.

The removal of barriers to publishing images of Rauschenberg’s work on social media, as well as in museum and scholarly publications, has resulted in a “profound bump” since the adoption of the 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 said.

MacLear said that several artists’ foundations had expressed interest in the Rauschenberg move. She added that it had taken just one meeting to approve the use of Rauschenberg’s images in the work of the US artist Rachel Harrison—a move that reflected the late artist’s generosity and belief in creative collaboration.

For-profit users of the images still need to gain permission and pay a fee. The money goes towards the foundation’s philanthropic work, which includes around 100 artists’ residencies a year at Captiva, Rauschenberg’s former home and studio in Florida, and a planned catalogue raisonné. Sales of non-Rauschenberg works in his collection and others from his estate earmarked for sale will also provide income.

Beckmann catalogue For Mayen Beckmann, the granddaughter of the painter Max Beckmann, image royalties are crucial in helping the Max Beckmann Archive to fund a revised catalogue of the late artist’s 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 his widow. She hopes that the projects will be completed by 2020, when her grandfather’s works go out of copyright.

Marc Waugh, the head of research at the UK non-profit organisation Dacs, which manages artists’ visual rights, pointed out that educational and museum publications are still paid for, blurring the distinction between for-profit and non-profit. Artists are always told that wider publication of their work is “good for their profile”, but they should still be remunerated, he said.

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 the legacy of his father, the artist Donald Judd. That legacy famously includes much real estate in Marfa, Texas, and his home and studio at 101 Spring Street in New York. He told the conference he often wondered: “What were you thinking, Don, leaving all of this with no funding?”

The attendees included representatives of several artists’ estates and foundations, including the Henry Moore Foundation (Mary Moore, the artist’s daughter, was a speaker), the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, the estate of the Belgian artist Philippe Vandenberg, the Vienna-based Maria Lassnig Foundation and the Gerhard Richter Archive in Dresden.