Maria Eichhorn

Maria Eichhorn’s installation “The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement” von Seth Siegelaub and Bob Projansky, 1997, addressed the famous “artist’s contract” of the early ’70s through which Seth Siegelaub (with the aid of lawyer Bob Projansky) tried to regulate artists’ rights. Siegelaub’s 1971 contract—although it has its roots in the Conceptual art movement—is based on a traditional conception of the artwork, and on a system comprising producers, dealers, and collectors. Siegelaub wanted to assure the artist of 15 percent of profits from the resale of artworks to a third party as well as to guarantee the artist certain controls over the reproduction and exhibition of his or her work. In effect, Eichhorn’s piece was a presentation of the materials used in a forthcoming book on which she collaborated with Siegelaub. The return to one of the historical father-figures of this debate has a certain timeliness, since copyright issues in the visual arts in Germany and Austria have once again come under intense discussion. In recent years certain progressive groups have addressed changing conditions of artistic labor: less and less is being produced for a market, and relationships between institutions and artists have grown in significance, but the relevance of Siegelaub’s “artist’s contract” has yet to be tested in this context.

Eichhorn left the greater part of the exhibition space empty, compressing most of the elements of her display—a video monitor, a slide projector, chairs, and two tables with file folders—into a small area near the wall directly across from the entrance. Visitors sat at the table under the watchful the eye of a guard. This staging of space and gaze conjured up the image of cultural administrators who consider themselves representatives of institutional power and control rather than public servants. How was one to interpret this strange arrangement? Siegelaub’s status as one of the important early exponents of Conceptual art brings to mind Benjamin Buchloh’s phrase “aesthetics of administration,” by which he called attention to Conceptual art’s assimilation of the social structure it criticized. But what was at stake in Eichhorn’s installation was economic exploitation, not a critique of artistic method.

The material was extremely comprehensive. Siegelaub’s archive (including proposals; contracts in various languages; correspondence with artists, dealers, and curators; newspaper articles, as well as other documentation) was supplemented by interviews with Hans Haacke, Daniel Buren, and Lawrence Weiner concerning their thoughts on the contract and their handling of sales, guarantees, and the cessation of rights. Eichhorn also included a video of a lecture Siegelaub gave on the contract, as well as documents related to current copyright issues. One could imagine reading and endlessly comparing these items. The problem, however, was not so much the abundance of material as the lack of structure or commentary. Does Eichhorn regard Siegelaub’s contract as a relevant model of art-world commercial relations to be aspired to now more than ever? Does she see it as a historical legitimation of the current discussion; and does it follow that the basic economic conditions of artistic practice haven’t changed in recent decades? Instead of offering answers, Eichhorn reproduced historical documents in various media, projecting them on the wall or displaying them in enormous enlargements.

Eichhorn herself represents an artistic practice to which the conception of the work implied in Siegelaub’s scheme no longer applies; artists who make temporary projects can perhaps sell an entire exhibition to a museum, but more often they accept payment for services rendered. In recent years, groups such as “Services” or “Messezok” have dealt extensively with this shift in artistic self—definition. Against this background, Eichhorn’s project comes across as an individual effort, less involved with problem—solving strategies than with turning problems back into art.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.