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Sculptor wins real estate battle over ‘site-specific’ works

4 October 2004

A US court has ruled that a corporate real estate developer cannot destroy a set of commissioned site-specific sculptures.

According to the Art Newspaper, the artist, David Phillips,  signed a 1999 deal with Pembroke Real Estate Inc, the real estate arm of financial giant Fidelity Investments,  to create several new works for its nautically-themed ‘Eastport Park’ in Boston. The developer subsequently announced changes to the completed sculptures as part of a ‘renovation’ to the site – an aim that would typically contravene an artist’s moral rights under most of the worlds’ legal systems.

The artist obtained a temporary court order forbidding the changes, but Pembroke then asked court permission to remove and return to Phillips all of his work in the park or give it to charity. Phillips told the court that “moving his sculptures to a different site would be like painting over the background landscape in the Mona Lisa.”

The court said that Phillips is well-known for “creating sculpture which is site-specific, meaning that it depends on the surrounding landscape.” It cited testimony that much modern sculpture does not exist separately from its context, and contemporary theory that “site-specific sculpture is destroyed if it is moved from the site.”

The artist hopes to make the injuction permanent, whilst the developers, who recently developed a site on Cannon St in the City of London, are seeking future court rulings in their favour (and thus, it can be inferred, against the interests of artists) over the nature of ‘site specific’ art.

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