A tarnished work of art, what do you do about it?


In rechtReeKs, the Kunstenbond, the union for artists and everyone who works in the cultural and creative sector, each edition takes a close look at a topic that is fundamental to the professional practice of the professional artist. This time Jet Hootsmans, a lawyer with the Kunstenbond, writes about personality rights: your hold when your artwork is affected or damaged.

Image: Jak Beemsterboer, bodybag - Nice - monument, 2018
For each column in the rechtReeKs series, the Arts Union chooses an appropriate image created by one of its member artists that has no relation to the issues in the article.


On the day of my birthday, I had a funeral and mused about that test of time. I thought about how beautiful the influence of time can be but sometimes devastating.

Promptly a day later, someone contacted me who had had the same thought, but about ONEn of his artworks. A combination of materials where one became more and more beautiful but the other became less and less and actually almost fell apart.

How beautiful the influence of time can be but sometimes devastating

High time for restoration. The owner also saw the damage, but for him, restoration was not a priority. For the artist, of course, it was. Not only did he see his work of art in a sad state, he also did not want to be associated with a work of art in this condition. And therein lies the crux.

In addition to ordinary copyright, as a creator you have special rights to your work that help you protect your reputation: personality rights. These have to do with the close and personal connection you have with your work as a creator and the fact that your reputation as a creator is defined by your work.

The owner also saw the damage, but for him repair was not a priority

For example, personality rights regulate that, as an artist, you have the right to name your work (if this is reasonably possible). This way it is clear to everyone who the creator is. The personality rights further regulate that a work of art may not be altered just like that. Neither may it be mutilated or damaged in such a way that it may harm the honor or name of the artist.

A damaged work of art is not exactly a good calling card. That seems obvious to me. Moreover, overdue maintenance can affect the essence or appearance of a work, for example, if parts have been destroyed or removed. That, too, reflects on the artist. Both situations can therefore be seen as an alteration or deformation in violation of personality rights.

Even the situation where the surroundings of a work of art are modified can cause an impairment

A work of art that has been restored in a way that does not do justice to the work can also be an infringement of personality rights. For example, if the restoration is of poor quality or leads to such a modification that affects the appearance of artwork. Even the situation where the environment of a work of art is altered can constitute an infringement. Consider a work created to evoke the imagination of movement. The surface of smooth cut grass was changed to coarse pebbles without consultation - because it is so easy to maintain.

Situations like this not infrequently lead to years of struggle. It helps to provide the owner with a maintenance plan and agree that the owner is obliged to carefully manage and maintain the work of art according to that plan. In doing so, I recommend drawing up the plan in such a way that you also take into account the possibility of overdue maintenance.

Situations like this not infrequently lead to years of struggle

Nevertheless, owners can delay endlessly. Proceedings, the ultimate means of enforcing restoration, are costly and, after all, are not started just like that. I regularly break through impasses like this by contacting them on behalf of the artist. With a letter from a lawyer, you show that you are serious about the matter and that you have the ability to force maintenance, for example. That alone often does suddenly make it possible to reach a solution together. And if not, the way to court is a lot easier.
I will gladly start a lawsuit for you to turn back time.

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