Are gardens art? When do you own art? When can you destroy art?

September 24, 2007 · Print This Article

Chapman Kelley Garden before afterChapman Kelley calls the Chicago, IL Grant Park wildflower garden he created more than 20 years ago “my Mona Lisa.”

The 66,000-square-foot plot of 45 different kinds of species splashed yellow and purple when in full bloom was once called a “magnificent piece of art.” by then Mayor Harold Washington.

But is the garden — or was it, before the Chicago Park District halved it — art by legal definition? Can you own art, does the buyer/commisoner own it and therefor destroy it when it sees fit to? Those questions and more go before a federal judge today in regards to the lawsuit filed by Mr. Kelley.

In consideration is the federal Visual Artists Rights Act which protects the destruction or alteration of works of art of “recognized stature”. The city posits that the law awsa created to protect outdoor paintings, murals & sculpture and not to protect gardens. Mr. Kelley is stating that his garden is an environmental sculpture.

Kelley is a painter, but his garden in Daley Bicentennial Plaza, just east of Millennium Park, brought him his greatest praise. It appeared in travel guides. And at one point, the district compared Kelley to other “heroes of Chicago landscape” such as Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Jackson Park.

Is it protected art, what is the right of the artist, what is the right of the commissioner, if artists can not get longevity and recognition from public work will they continue to do it? If cities have to fear lawsuits and damages in the 6 figure or higher level when they redesign city areas will that put a freeze on public art commissions?

6 thoughts on “Are gardens art? When do you own art? When can you destroy art?”

  1. Kathryn says:

    Has anyone been following the Büchel and the MASS MoCA story? That’s this story times about 10 million. Now they have to clear out a football field of Buchel’s crap.

    I’ve stayed without an opinion until today when he sent a reporter at the Boston Globe some wisecrack about calling it the MASS CoMA. Buchel was a complete diva and got everything he wanted and MASS MoCA is out $600,000, and he’s making snide jokes.

    Part of the problem is that these people had no real contract, considering how much money and uncertainty was on the table. Better paperwork could have avoided the whole mess.

  2. brad farwell says:

    It seems a bit unfair to compare superdiva Büchel and Kelley, who created a fully-realized work of art, within budget and ok’d by the city. I mean, it seems at this point that Büchel is pretty clearly a jackass, whereas Kelley seems like a good guy.

  3. Büchel is from my area of Switzerland, and was a little local jag until a couple curators “discovered” and pushed him. They were under pressure to finally show somebody from the region instead of JUST their typical “job-enhancing” displays of top-o-the-pops Documenta stars etc. Anyway, they found this guy who was young enough and doing rather clearly curator-correct derived installations. So certain curators helped “coach” him on what to do and so on and then showed him. Custom-made consensus curator art. He can make some very amusing and fun “crawl-through” junk installations, with no meaning or depth of course, but entertaining such as he did at Hauser and Wirth, but yes he’s a diva and a cryogenically-created curator-designed entity.

  4. Balzac says:

    The art world needs to be a self cleaning oven, dickheads who act like idiots should be collectively excorcised.

  5. duncan. says:

    Brad… Who would be left?


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