Seattle’s Mystery Sculptor

An anonymous artist left a rather elaborate multi-piece paper mache sculpture at Gas Works Park in Seattle last night.

The newspaper sent me an email just a few minutes ago to see if I knew who the artist was – which I think is rather flattering. Unfortunately, I don’t know who created this piece, which:

…consists of several pieces: a full-size gold-plated man standing on the waterfront surrounded by what appear to be shells, some with the heads of people emerging from them.”Anew is gifted to the citizens of Seattle in the spirit of awakening,” the artist wrote in a plaque attached to the sculpture. “Each of us has shells to break through, parameters to look past and wills to exercise. Arise and stand and then start moving.”

As a P.S., the artist wrote, “If still here I will remove once the rains return.”

(See larger images of the work here, and read the full Seattle Times article here).

Unfortunately, you can’t give art to the people of Seattle without a permit, which our anonymous artist failed to do. Therefore, the work will be removed from the park on Thursday. So if you’re in the area and you want to see the work before it disappears, you’d better head down to Gas Works Park now.

I can’t imagine spending so much time to create a sculpture, or group of sculptures, and then just give them away without trying to get any credit for it. My ego is way too big for me to ever be that selfless. But it is a way to (very temporarily) get your work in front of the public without having to get permission from the dreaded “committee.”

I’m trying to figure out how the artist made the central gold figure. It looks like it may have been molded around a real person. Hmmm.

Now, I have a legal/philosophical question to put to you. If you followed that link to the slide show, you saw that the newspaper will sell you a print of their photo of the sculptures. I became aware of certain copyright issues having to do with photos of artwork when I lived in Portland. While I was there, the creator of Portlandia got himself in the news by insisting that no photographs or other images of his sculpture could be sold, even though the sculpture itself belonged to the city, because he owned the copyright of the original work. Which seems fair, although it did make a few people unhappy who wanted to put the image on T-shirts or whatever.

Now for my question. I realize that a group of sculptures that shows up mysteriously in a popular public park is news, and of course the work should be shown in the paper. But should the paper be allowed to sell those photos, since they cannot have obtained the copyright from the sculptor? In other words, should the newspaper be able to profit directly from an image of a piece of artwork  they had no hand in creating?  Or did the artist give up all right to his work the minute he placed it in the park? Thoughts?

5 thoughts on “Seattle’s Mystery Sculptor”

  1. I am just revisiting this story in light of the Monoliths … And, why did you think of the Artist as a “he”?

    Still laughing, and loving this story.

  2. Flattery is the usual response I get, too, but as you say, best to ask if you’re going to sell it. AND, since you are going to start selling your work (because, you see, I want you to!), no time like the present to start. :)

  3. i personally really like the scupltures. they’re totally true, people do need to break out of their shells. i believe that they should stay because then people can remember to be individual. now days everyone is convinced that we all have to be alike. i’m only 14, although i know that’s not how things should be. we should aloud to be ourselves freely without people judging. if more people listened to the meaning of the sculptures then maybe the world could be a better place where everyone is accepted for who they are and not the clothes they wear or their style.

  4. In this case, I think the artist did give up his rights to the work in that he did not withhold them, reserve them, or even comment on them. Legally, he may still be able to claim some rights, but I doubt that would extend to reproductions.

    Another knotty issue! Intellectual rights are complex! I have had mine crossed up once or twice (maybe more, since I can’t follow up on everything I produce in this wild new internet universe). Is making a keychain-sized reproduction of Portlandia the same kind of trespass as making a full-size reproduction and trying to sell that? Does the artist himself want to retain those rights in order to make money on them, or just so no one else can? Does that make a difference?

    If I do a portrait of someone’s pet, and they want to get tee-shirts and mugs, etc., printed with it, I don’t have a problem with that, but I don’t want them to start selling them. At least not without cutting me in on the profits.

    Then there’s the question of “sampling” one artist’s work (or many), and doing a “mash up”, or altering art and selling that. I, personally, wouldn’t want my work altered without my permission, or sold in any form without some remuneration. But I’m a commercial artist; it’s how I make my living. If someone else is getting money from my artwork, that’s that much less than I might get.

    Jonni, you base your sculptures on photos from books or the internet. Do you ever ask permission to use them that way? Maybe your use of them is so dilute, in that you use more than one reference in a general way to achieve an understanding of the subject, as opposed to copying the photo in 3D that this is not an issue. But who decides this? I have to be really careful of this in my 2D work, and always get permission for anything that I might make money from. If I can’t get permission, I don’t use it. It’s a bother sometimes (thinking of a drawing I want to use, but can’t make contact with the photographer to get permission), but I wouldn’t want someone using my work that way, so I stick to it.

    • Good points, Xan. I probably should have asked permission to use the spots from a real colt for my paper mache horse, but it didn’t even cross my mind. Fortunately, the colt’s owner felt flattered instead of angry, and she even allowed me to post the photo of her colt on my blog after the colt was sold and the photo was removed from her own site. If I sold my artwork, like you do, I would need to start being a lot more careful about the legal stuff.


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