Hiding in plain sight on Michigan Avenue, Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) quietly blends into the background beside the Hershey’s store on Pearson. Despite its prime location, not many Chicagoans know about the museum or its unique vision of exploring spirituality in art. But nine Mondays out of the year, when the museum is closed to the public, something very special happens inside that only a few people know about.
Founded in 2013, ilLUMAnations collaborates with Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, using art to help individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their caregivers. Each session consists of trained docents guiding persons with Alzheimer’s to look at art on display, recall any artwork they liked, and engage in a social hour to promote well-being and raise self-esteem. The museum’s intimate setting is apt for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers because it provides a small, quiet environment that reduces possible stress for participants. The ilLUMAnations program is very successful; caregivers have noticed their patients are more upbeat, feel less isolated, and have higher self-esteem after attending ilLUMAnations events.
IlLUMAnations’s success not only serves LUMA’s mission of “art illuminating the spirit,” but it has also influenced the museum’s future exhibits. Sitting in LUMA’s Michigan Avenue office, I met with Director of Cultural Affairs Pam Ambrose to talk about the LUMA’s mission and its upcoming exhibitions. Ambrose shared with me the fascinating story behind the late artist William Utermohlen, his experience with Alzheimer’s disease, and how his various states of mind were translated into his later artwork. The ilLUMAnations program and William Utermohlen’s artwork, Ambrose said, are both examples of “vehicles [that] engage Alzheimer’s patients.” LUMA will exhibit Utermohlen’s work from February 6 to July 27 2016.
In 1995, at the age of 62, Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive neurological disease which deteriorates a person’s brain functions and memory. Ambrose, one of the founding directors of LUMA, explained that creative people will continue to express themselves, even in the face of a degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s. Ambrose pointed out that visual expression is more accessible to Alzheimer’s patients because unlike writing, painting does not have to stick to the rules of language and can be created even with deteriorating communication abilities.
In the case of William Utermohlen, the artist did not stop producing works when he was diagnosed. He continued to paint for the following five years. His paintings shifted in narrative and spatial orientation, with an increasing presence of isolation and “flatness.” In his later self-portraits, his facial features become unrecognizable, and his gazes vacant—in one self-portrait he even erased his face. The themes of isolation and loss of identity in an art exhibition visually shows the progression of the disease.
Intellectual Property and Museums
When the Utermohlen exhibit opens in February 2016, many people who see the exhibit might want to take photos of some of the late artist’s work, but it is unlikely that any of them will ask the museum for permission before taking a photo. Since smartphones are everywhere and we live in such a visual culture, it is extremely common for museum visitors to take photos of the art they see. Taking a photo of art, however, can be considered a violation of the artist’s intellectual property or the museum’s copyright. While museums want visitors to have a good experience, they also need to respect the intellectual property rights of the artists whose works are on display.
One aspect of intellectual property law that frequently applies to artists is copyrights. Copyrights are designed to protect the original creator of the work. In the case of an artist, his or her artwork cannot be reproduced, distributed, displayed or copied without the artist’s permission. United States copyright law currently protects an artist’s works for the duration of the artist’s life plus 70 years after death. Art made before 1923 is not protected by copyright and is in the public domain, which means it can be freely distributed and reproduced without penalty.
When museums want to display an artist’s copyrighted works, they need to license the copyright. Licensing a copyright gives the museum permission to display an artist’s work to the public in exchange for a fee. A museum may also receive a deed of gift from a donor and receive the copyright to any art they donate. These are the main ways a museum will secure the legal rights to display or make derivative works of artwork.
After licensing the copyright to display artwork, most museums take high-resolution photos of their exhibitions. Many of them claim copyright to these photographs and do not consider their photographs to be in the public domain. Visitors may also be charged a rental fee by the museum if they use one of its high resolution photos from its website. Museum visitors and others, however, believe the high-resolution photos cannot be copyrighted because there is nothing original about them.
Museums have argued in the past that their photographs of original artworks should be copyrighted, as seen in the case The Bridgeman Library, Ltd. V. Corel Corp., 25 F. Supp. 2d 421 (S.D.N.Y. 1998). This case resulted in museums’ photographs of works in the public domain not being protected by copyright because the photographs were “slavish [copies]” that lacked significant originality or labor. Any other reproduction of a piece of art, like a custom painting or pencil drawing, would have some effort and originality and therefore could be protected by copyright. But in the case of museums taking photos of their art, the photographs cannot be copyrighted and are open to fair use.
No Photos Allowed
In addition to copyright issues with photos taken by the museum, there are problems with visitors taking their own photos of exhibits. The act of taking a photo of art made after 1923 violates the rights of the copyright holder, which is usually the original artist, because a photo is a “derivative work” of the art. Taking photos of art in a museum can result in legal action by the copyright holder if they find out someone distributed their copyrighted artwork without permission. People cannot take photos of this original artwork without getting permission from the artist, and many museums ban photography because of this.
Exceptions to this rule fall under anything that is “fair use.” Fair use means a copyrighted work can be used without first getting permission if it is a parody, a commentary or a criticism of the work. Book reviews, song parodies or scholarly articles are examples of where fair use of copyrighted materials can be allowed. The idea behind fair use is to use just enough of a work to make it recognizable and serve some public interest. Fair use does not apply to making products like postcards or reprints of art and distributing it for financial gain.
Today, LUMA and many other museums do not ban photography by visitors. Instead, these museums allow people to take photos of their artwork in the hopes that they will post about it to social media, raise awareness about the exhibitions, and bring more attention to the museum in general. The majority of visitors who take pictures of art only keep the photos for memories and not for financial gain from selling derivative products. These unoriginal photos are similar to a museum’s photos of their own exhibitions, where the images are effectively identical.
Photographing art has many implications for intellectual property law that many people are unaware of. Taking a photo of art is potentially making a derivative work of art and can infringe on the artist’s copyright if it was made after 1923 or if the artist’s copyright is still valid. The best advice for anyone thinking of taking photos in a museum would be to ask permission first and to respect any museum ban on photography. Art takes a lot of time and effort, and reproducing artwork through photography is ethically questionable. But if one does take photos, they should make sure to not violate the artist’s copyright by selling the photos or distributing reprints.
When I asked Pam Ambrose if she had personally seen an example of intellectual property violations involving art on public display, she told me she only experienced one copyright issue in her entire art career. When the art director worked at a historic house in St. Louis that contained a lot of artwork, she encountered a person making fine pencil drawings of the artwork and selling them as postcards. But aside from this one incident, Ambrose said, there have been no major copyright infringements by other visitors. Ambrose explained that most people want to take a photo for their own memories, not for other reasons. When William Utermohlen’s art exhibit is up in February 2016, Ambrose hopes that many visitors take photos and post to social media to bring attention to LUMA and ilLUMAnations. Ambrose believes people can benefit from seeing art and talking about it, and if taking photos helps, then museums like LUMA are all for it.
For more information about LUMA or the ilLUMAnations program, visit http://www.luc.edu/luma/ or follow @LUMAChicago on Twitter.