MASS MoCA vs. Christoph Buchel: Round 99

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This time it’s getting serious. For months, MASS MoCA has been fighting with the Swiss artist Christoph Buchel over the rising budget for a massive Buchel installation called Training Ground for Democracy that was supposed to open at the museum last December. (There’s an umlaut in Buchel, dear reader, but those take too long to apply on my ultra sophisticated blog machine.) But now the museum has cancelled the Buchel project — sort of. The plan is to allow people to see the unifinished, warehouse-sized installation — which includes an entire two story house, a movie theater interior and a voting booth. But all of the elements will be behind plastic covers, unless the museum can get a federal district court in Massachusetts to give it a declaratory ruling that the rump exhibition can be shown without the plastic.

Meanwhile, the museum has also whipped up a show in its own defense, Made at MASS MoCA, that details its happier working relations with other artists on installation projects at MASS MoCA, including Tim Hawkinson, Ann Hamilton and Cai Guo-Qiang. (Translation: Buchel is a sorehead.)

In its press release, the museum also makes a point of noting this:

Due to the space constraints imposed by Training Ground for Democracy, the exhibition Made at MASS MoCA is being presented at MASS MoCA’s only remaining gallery space.

(Translation: Buchel is a sorehead who has practically squeezed us out of house and home.)

The MASS MoCA vs. Buchel fight has been heating up for a while. They say he made demands that caused a $160,000 project budget to climb to $300,000. (This for an institution wiith a total annual visual arts budget of about $800,000.) Joseph Thompson, the MASS MoCA director, says he finally called it quits when Buchel went back to Europe last December and left behind a list of new elements he needed for the installation, including the fuselage of a large jet liner, burned, bomb damaged and hung from the ceiling.

Buchel says that MASS MoCA mismanaged the whole project and spent more than necessary on some of the elements, like the house. He also issued a list of demands to the museum last winter with a classic statement: “The artist demands full autonomy with regard to his artwork.”

Well, for that to happen, sometimes the artist has to come equipped with is own checkbook. Just ask Diego Rivera.