Well, not in the United States, since, thanks to the Copyright Term Extension Act, no published work will move into the public domain here until 2019 (at which time there may be another extension). Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain notes that “[in] addition to lengthening the term, Congress also changed the law so that every creative work is automatically copyrighted, even if the author does nothing.”
You can check the map above to see the copyright lengths for each country. Much of the world has copyright ending either 50 years after a creator’s death or 70, which means cultural contributions from people who died in 1946 or 1966 are entering the public domain.
The Public Domain Review has once again rounded up some of these cultural figures in its class of 2017, including science fiction author H. G. Wells, landscape artist Paul Nash, Surrealist author André Breton, Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy, modernist writer Gertrude Stein, Zen proponent D. T. Suzuki, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and writer Evelyn Waugh.
Below is a selection of 12 artists — some featured in the review’s class, others not — whose work is entering the public domain, from a World War I illustrator to an influential figure in Abstract Expressionism. All of them reflect the diverse visual movements of the early 20th century.
Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946)
Alfred Stieglitz was an influential early proponent of photography as a fine art, including through his galleries, where he exhibited the medium alongside other modern art. While much of his outdoor photography grapples with the chaos of nature (urban scenes are often overlaid with rain and snow), he also made intimate platinum prints in the studio, such as portraits of his wife, painter Georgia O’Keeffe.
László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946)
László Moholy-Nagy was the focus of a major exhibition last year at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. The retrospective emphasized the continuous experimentation of the former Bauhaus teacher, whose life was cut short in 1946, at the age of 51, by leukemia. His constructivist paintings feature intersecting geometric bodies, he melted Plexiglas sculptures into strange shapes in his oven, and he created striking advertising, such as a 1936 design for Imperial Airways.
Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)
The Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti is best known for his striding figures, their lithe bodies influenced by both ancient art and modernist forms. He also had the rare honor of having his art described by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: “Giacometti knows that space is a cancer on being, and eats everything; to sculpt, for him, is to take the fat off space, he compresses space, so as to drain off its exteriority.”
Bob Thompson (1937–1966)
Although Bob Thompson was in his late 20s when he died of a drug overdose in Rome in 1966, he left behind hundreds of vivid artworks. The African American artist combined the influence of both Old Masters and Abstract Expressionists in his paintings, including those currently on view in the exhibition Beat Generation the ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Paul Nash (1889–1946)
Paul Nash, who’s currently featured in a retrospective at Tate Britain, died of heart failure in 1946 at the age of 57. During his life, he used the styles of Surrealism and Modernism to add tension to military scenes of both world wars. For instance, in one painting of World War I, during which he served in the British army as both an officer and an official war artist, dead trees contort above a trench populated with somber, angular soldiers.
Joseph Stella (1877–1946)
The Italian-born Joseph Stella was enamored with the urban movement of the newly industrialized New York City, such as the frenetic action of Coney Island, his paintings of which were on view in an exhibition last year at the Brooklyn Museum. Whether the Brooklyn Bridge or the lights of amusement parks, everything in his work seemed to be viewed through a kaleidoscope.
Florence Fuller (1867–1946)
Born in 1867 in South Africa, Florence Fuller moved as a child to Melbourne, Australia, where she studied art. She was successful enough that, by the age of 20, she was able to leave behind her job as a governess for the studio. She became popular for her portraiture and landscapes, as well as portrayals of poverty in Australia.
Hans Hofmann (1880–1966)
Born in Germany, Hans Hofmann immigrated in 1932 to the United States, where his distinct Abstract Expressionist style had a major impact, not just because of its vibrant colors and Cubist structures but also through his work as a teacher. He started his first school in 1933 in New York, and it developed into the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts.
Adolf de Meyer (1868–1946)
While the name of Adolph de Meyer may not be prominent today, he was a prolific photographer in the early 20th century, taking portraits of everyone from King George V to dancer Ruth St. Denis. Many details of his life are difficult to pin down, such as how he came by the title “Baron” or the details of the seeming marriage of convenience by de Meyer, who was gay, to Donna Maria Beatrice Olga Alberta Caracciolo. He was hired as Vogue’s first official fashion photographer in 1914, dying in 1946 in Los Angeles.
Horace Pippin (1888–1946)
The self-taught artist Horace Pippin used his paintings to respond to black life in the United States, including his own experiences with segregation as an African American from Pennsylvania. Also important were his drawings from his service in World War I with the famed Harlem Hellfighters. Although his right arm was critically wounded in the process, he chronicled their barrier-breaking work.
Gino Severini (1883–1966)
Gino Severini was distinct among the Italian Futurists for being more interested in the dynamic movement of dancers than new industrial machines. The fashionable monocle-wearer painted the frenzied action of Parisian dance halls, where he mingled with the artistic avant-garde, and later brought his fluid geometry to frescoes and mosaics around Europe.
Hans/Jean Arp (1886–1966)
Jean Arp, who also went by Hans Arp, was a founding member of the Dada movement, although he later exhibited with the Surrealists in 1920s Paris. His work moved fluidly through media and styles, from wood reliefs of abstract shapes to ripped-up paper and monumental sculptures.