In Brief

Town Paints Sculpture Blue, to Artist’s Horror

by Mostafa Heddaya on July 29, 2014


This fountain by Alain Mila was repainted without the artist’s permission. (screenshot via France TV Info)

French municipalities are mistreating the public works they commission under a national “1% for art” program, with one going so far as to recently repaint a sculpture without the artist’s approval, Libération reported. In the north-eastern commune of Hayange, a stonework sculpture by the artist Alain Mila was repainted blue, the gentle monumentality of its twin forms transformed into a grim robin’s-egg scene, its color suspiciously close to the logo of the National Front, a far-right party.

Though in most cases an amiable solution is found in consultation with the artist, Libération writes, the threat of unsanctioned modifications still looms over public art in France. The country has had a 1% for art program since 1951, with public construction projects dedicating one-hundredth of their budgets “for the commissioning or acquisition of one or several works of art specially conceived” for the project in question. But in a related article Libération notes that in 2006, an appeals court in Lyon found that works could be “adapted to new needs” for “aesthetic, technical, and public security” considerations.

The Mila sculptural fountain, for which the municipality of Hayange paid 9,000 in 2001 (~$12,000 today), was apparently painted a shade of blue that the artist finds “very close to that of the logo of the National Front.” The mayor of Hayange, Fabien Engelmann, is a member of the controversial nationalist party.

For his own part, mayor Engelmann was nonplussed about the modification’s aesthetic implications, telling the press that one would be “pained to call [the sculpture] art.”

The French minister of culture, Aurélie Filippetti, disagreed, calling the modification “a manifest violation” of laws moral and civil.

All translations by the author

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  • Shawn Chapman

    Once an artist sells a work it would seem that the work belongs to whoever purchased the work to do with as they please (unless there is some prohibition in the sales contract). Murals get painted over, sculptures get moved to lousy locations; you send your work out with a pat on the head, hoping they make there way to a safe home but you never know. It would seem that Alain Mila’s options are pretty limited; have his name removed as “artist”, and take it as a lesson learned.

    • Erik Patten

      That is not really the case. In the US at least selling a work does not transfer the copyright unless specified, so altering the piece would constitute a violation of the artists original copyright (assuming an artist cares to sue). Plus, I would imagine the artist has a contract that prohibits altering the piece without permission, that is usually standard in these cases.

      • Shawn Chapman

        I don’t know that altering an object after purchase has anything to do with transfer of the copyright, but “Libération notes that in 2006, an appeals court in Lyon found that works could be “adapted to new needs” for “aesthetic, technical, and public security”” So unless there is a contract prohibition against altering the work I think Mr. Mila is SOL. Maybe he can get his pound of flesh by having the Mayor and council voted out.

    • In Canada, artists have something called “Moral Rights” along with ownership rights and copyrights.

      When I sell a work, I lose ownership rights (the actual piece is no longer in my possession) but I retain moral rights and copyright. I can repaint that image, sell prints and reproductions, repaint that image, etc.

      I can sell or license the copyright to one entity while selling the object to another. But moral rights are non transferrable, so if a mall buys a series of sculptures and decides to paint them or hang holiday decorations off of them, that is a violation of a work’s moral rights, and the artist can go after the owner, even after the artist has sold the work.

      • Shawn Chapman

        That sounds pretty good; in hindsight I bet Mr. Mila is wishing he had sold his fountain in Canada.

      • ghanderman

        too bad canada did not have the same regard for the rights of native americans there.

      • it is the same in France, the moral rights isnon transferrable

    • thatgirlinnewyork

      Usually not in the case of public art, acquired with taxpayer dollars or otherwise, intended for public consumption.

  • jcl

    But who owns a publicly commissioned artwork? Sure, a collector can wreck whatever art they own if thats what they want to do. But this is owned by the public, not the mayor.

  • al
  • 3338070

    I definitely think this should not have happened. Though I’m aware some people don’t agree, I hate it when people aren’t true to the artist’s intent. But I gotta admit, I like the blue better.

  • fahrender

    I wouldn’t let the National Front lay claim to that color. Blue is very French and has been for centuries. I actually like the color on the sculpture – at least in this photo.

  • tony

    looks so much better!!

    • Maria Pichot

      Still….i’ts simply crazy to alter the piece without the author’s consent.

      • fahrender

        Sometimes artists are “crazy”. Think of the Dadaists, Marcel Duchamp, the Guerrilla Gurlz, etc.

        • Maria Pichot

          Certainly! but I´m referring to the ones who´ve altered the piece by painting it blue without the author´s consent, not to the artist himself.

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