The following guest post was written by Juyoun Han, an attorney at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP

According to the New York Times, Black Lives Matter protests may have been the largest movement in U.S. history, and the most vigilant of these protests remain on the walls, corners, and surfaces of streets that we walk by every day. In cities across the country — Seattle, Salt Lake City, Chicago, New York City — artists banded together to use their creativity as a powerful visual advocacy against racial injustice. World-renowned artist Banksy, for example, created a painting that depicts a candle at a memorial starting a small flame at the corner of a U.S. flag. Banksy expressed his support for the BLM movement in an Instagram post, saying “people of colour are being failed by the system.”

Unfortunately, these murals are short-lived, either because they are immediately tagged or destroyed by dissenters who blithely deny America’s problem of racism. Artists who had transformed boarded-up businesses into powerful BLM art witnessed their art getting thrown out by storeowners. Such defacement of protest art is unfortunately a recurring violation. In 2014, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, a renowned Portland-based artist, Ashley Montague, painted a mural of late Brown entitled “Status Quo.” Unfortunately, the mural was tagged and painted over.

Now, here’s the good news: the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA Law”) may be the key to protecting and preserving these artworks. Under this law, the creators of 5Pointz recently cemented a victory after declination of review by the U.S. Supreme Court, obtaining a $6.75 million award against a luxury condo developer who destroyed what was previously considered to be “the world’s premier graffiti mecca.” The lawsuit sets a powerful precedent that may be relied upon to protect BLM murals.

Q&A about VARA Law for street artists:

My artwork was completely destroyed. Can it be protected under VARA?

Yes. VARA law protects artworks from being destroyed, but you will need to prove that the work gained “recognized stature.” This means that your work must have gained recognition by the art community and the public. There are many ways to meet this “recognized stature” standard. For example, you can show that your artwork garnered social media attention and other press coverage, that other members of the art community vouched for your work, or that your work had been featured in movies or videos.

My work is not destroyed, but some people tagged it and now it is a mockery. Does the law protect me?

Yes. VARA protects against modification, distortion, or mutilation of artworks that harms an artist’s reputation. For example, removing and making changes to sculptures made to be installed for a certain space, or partially painting over an original mural and allowing the public to see the distorted art form can harm the original artist’s esteem and reputation in the community. Even an emerging artist can show that the artist’s reputation has been harmed on a case-by-case basis. After all, part of the goal of VARA law is to protect works of lesser known artists as well as artists who have already gained fame

What if multiple artists collaborated on a single piece of artwork?

VARA may protect artwork even if it was created by multiple artists as a collaboration piece; not every artist involved needs to be famous. Even an artwork led by an artist joined by a community of teenage students can be protected under VARA.

If I am hired to install the art, can I still gain protection under VARA?

No. If you were hired to install a piece of art, then the “work-for-hire” exception applies and VARA will not protect your artwork.

What kind of protection would I gain under VARA?

If your artwork has already been destroyed, you can bring a legal action for compensation. If you have knowledge that your work may be destroyed in the future, you can prevent that from happening by requesting a legal injunction. You are also entitled to a 90-day notice before your work is removed.

What kinds of murals will VARA NOT protect?

If you signed a document or “waiver” of your VARA rights, then you cannot try to preserve your work. If you created an artwork on a property without permission or authorization from the property owner, this is a grey area—there is at least one legal case that says VARA law will not protect unauthorized artworks. However, if the artwork is removable (for example, on a board or a canvas) from the wall of the building, it might be protected even if not authorized.

If your artwork was not destroyed but modified due to normal wear and tear, or due to weather or climate change, it can be more difficult to ask for legal recovery. Also, the following forms of art are excluded from VARA protection: works made for hire, posters, maps, globes or charts, technical drawings, diagrams, models, applied art, motion pictures, books and other publications, electronic publications, merchandising items or advertising, promotional, descriptive, covering, packaging material or container; nor does VARA  cover any work not subject to general copyright protection.

Does it matter which state I live in?

No. VARA law is federal law, so it applies no matter which state you live in. However, there are state laws that are similar to VARA, which may give you additional legal protection.

What can artists do to protect their art?

Authorization – gaining authorization, preferably in writing, from the owner of the mural’s site to create your artwork will be advantageous in a legal action.

Recognition – the more the artist can show recognition (e.g. social media, press coverage, public and art community’s acclaim) the more effective it would be to prevent or recover compensation from those who destroyed the work.

Timely Response – if you are aware of threats to destroy or mutilate your artwork, respond in a timely manner. Contacting lawyers can help prevent the damage, facilitate negotiations, and if necessary, bring legal actions.

About the author: Juyoun Han, is a lawyer at Eisenberg & Baum LLP based in NYC. Juyoun’s practice includes Art Law, Artificial Intelligence Fairness & Data Privacy, and Disability Rights litigation. She was involved in the 5Pointz litigation and thanks her clients who have opened her eyes to
the world of art.

Note: The views expressed on this post are those of the individual author writing in her individual capacities only – not of any employers or affiliates.

Street art protest images featured here were selected and photographed by Lois Stavsky 

Ori Carino on the Lower East Side

Calicho Arevalo in Gowanus

july4art on the Bowery

Souls NYC in the Bronx, south of West Farms

5 & 6  Amir Diop in Soho and Noho

Unidentified artist in Gowanus

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While exploring the streets on and off Atlantic Avenue in the East New York section of Brooklyn this past Sunday, I came upon a wall of classic graffiti painted by several members of the long-running, Brooklyn-born Ex Vandals crew. Pictured above is veteran style master 2il taking a brief break from his work in progress.  Several more images follow:

Old school graffiti artist Keon

Multimedia artist Panic Rodriguez does Kanye West with classic graffiti writer Clyde to his right

And graffiti veteran Gap RNS at work

Much respect to these pioneers who paved the way to so many–

Photos credit: Lois Stavsky

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When visiting North Philly’s graffiti mecca over at 5th and Cecil B Moore last month, its curator, Tameartz, suggested that I continue walking along Cecil B. Moore Avenue until I reach Hancock Street. And I’m so glad that I did, as near completion was a treasure trove of adjoining magical murals. Featured above is multimedia artist, designer and Sharktown Walls curator Alloyius Mcilwaine. at work. Several more images captured that evening follow:

Sean Lugo in collaboration with Alloyius Mcilwaine

Greta Maletsky, “Mahākāla,” to the left of Seven aka The Love Renegade, “Love Yourself”

Leon Rainbow of Trenton’s Jersey Fresh Jam fame

Large segment of huge collaborative wall fashioned by Naythan Anthony, CAV aka Raw Sol, Seip, & Kyle Boich

Collaborative mural painted by Busta, Seper and John Zerbe

Sharktown Walls was produced in partnership with Prism Studio and Colorspace Labs.

Photos by Lois Stavsky

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Managed and curated for over 20 years by the talented and dedicated Kensington resident Christian Rodriguez aka Tameartz, the walls along North 5th Street & Cecil B Moore Street consistently host stylishly striking graffiti fashioned by local, national and international artists. The image featured above was painted by Philly-based Colombian artist Busta. Several more images captured while visiting Philly last month follow:

Spanish artist Saoka

Spanish artist Imse

NYC-based Adam Fu and Los Angeles-based Yanoe

And a BODE-inspired production fashioned by TNS members Ant5, Monk, Cash88 and Tameartz — with background and characters by Cash88 and Tameartz — captured at dusk

Also at this site at the relatively new community park,  Sunflower Philly, is an amazing array of collaborative works created by youth, many in collaboration with the artists featured here.

Photo credits: 1, 2 & 6 Sara C Mozeson; 3-5 & 7 Lois Stavsky

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Few NYC street art spots are as reflective of our times as is Freeman’s Alley, located off Rivington Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. And in these challenging times, the nation’s precarious political state and its ongoing pandemic have been the major themes of the street art that has emerged there.

Pictured above is NYC-based artist SacSix‘s portrait of our vice president-elect, Kamala Harris — a representative of the change we so sorely need. Several more images captured this past Sunday follow:

NYC-based Raddington Falls‘ politically-conscious Lego-inspired characters

Crkshnk’s depicts  former NYC mayor and current Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani as court jester

California-based Jeremy Novy laments the loss of “free hugs” in the time of Covid-19

 NYC-based DeGrupo celebrates President-elect Joe Biden’s victory

NYC-based Eye Sticker — in this pre-election paste-up — asks us to vote out “Trumpkin Season”

Photo credits: 1, 2, 4-6 Ana Candelaria; 3 Lois Stavsky

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When the talented Netherlands-based artist Karski teamed up with the brand Tia Maria, not only was a splendid abstract design – with one-of-a-kind colors – launched for a new drink, but an elegant book, CONTRAST, was produced, as well. With its splendid selection of images by first-rate international artists and its informative, engaging text, CONTRAST — by Karski and friends — is a cause for celebration.

A small sampling of images from CONTRAST follows:

 Karski, Untitled, Mixed media, Amsterdam, 2019

Karski and Netherlands-based Beyond — who have been working as a duo since 2012 — Untitled, PowWow Festival, Rotterdam, 2019

Karski and Beyond, Untitled, Bjelovar, Croatia, 2017

Karski and Beyond. The Holy Stork, The Hauge, 2019

Brazilian artist Sipros — whom Karski first met in 2013 when he had traveled to São Paulo to paint at the MuBE, the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture and Ecology — Four faces, Big ears, Wynwood Arts District, Miami, 2019

The legendary NYC-based Chris “Daze” Ellis — one of Karski’s early inspirations — Untitled, NYC, 2016

Venezuela-born, Munich-based SatOne, Counterbalance, Frankston, Australia, 2019

In addition to the captivating artworks, among the many items of interest in CONTRAST is the fascinating chronology of Karski’s life as an artist — from the moment he picked up a spray can at age 10 to his recent experimentation with abstract work. And wonderfully intriguing, too, are the artists’ intimate impressions of one another.

Also featured in CONTRAST are: the Netherlands-based duo TelmoMeil; Amsterdam-born, Buenos Aires-based Nasepop; Rotterdam-based duo Bier En Brood; Amsterdam-based Stefan Nikolai Ormeling; Colombian native Zurikt; the late Spanish artist Treze and London-based Bonzai.

A paean to contemporary street art and to the notion of bringing together opposites in a world of contrasts, the limited-edition CONTRAST delights!

Images courtesy Karski and Tia Maria

Photo 6 of Sipros: Karin du Maire

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Celebrating five years of Underhill Walls — the model community art project spearheaded and curated by Jeff Beler — “What’s Your Sign?” recently surfaced at the corner of Underhill Avenue and Saint Johns Place.  Featured above is Jeff Beler — standing to the left of his mural, adjacent to BLJ ‘s . Several more images from “What’s Your Sign?” follow:

North Carolina / NYC-based BLJ creates a passionate, assertive Aries, the ram — the first astrological sign in the Zodiac

Colombian artist Calicho Arevalo‘s Sagittarius and Savior Elmundo‘s Scorpio

Paulie Nassar designs an alluring Gemini

Visual artist and producer Megan Watters honors Ruth Bader Ginsburg with an elegantly balanced Libra

Brooklyn-based Justin Winslow fashions a mesmerizingly playful Aquarius

And Brooklyn-based Subway Doodle adds a bit of playful sarcasm

Photos of images by Lois Stavsky

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A stirring pubic art exhibition has recently made its way to 6th Avenue and 43rd Street in Midtown Manhattan. Brazilian artist Alexandre Keto imagines the future lives of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Agatha Felix had they not become “victims of deadly brutality.”

The image featured above depicts Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old African American woman who was found hanged in a Texas jail cell three days after she was arrested during a traffic stop in July, 2015. Several more images from Alive with Us /Viva com Nós follow:

17-year-old Florida-based African-American high school student Trayvon Martin, murdered in 2012 by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, to the left of 18 -year-old Michael Brown who was fatally shot in 2014 by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo

Alexandre Keto — captured at work in the final stages of the mural’s production

Michael Brown, closer-up

Brazilian 8-year-old Agatha Felix, shot in the back in a Rio de Janeiro favela in 2019

And, again, Agatha Felix

Produced by Art Bridge and presented in partnership with Arts Brookfield, “Alive with Us /Viva com Nós” is part of City Canvas, an initiative of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs

Photo credits: 1-5 Lois Stavsky 6 Sara C Mozeson

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A Presidential Parody continued to make its way around town on Sunday — despite the steady rain — with stops at Trump Tower and neighboring sites. A brief interview with New Yorker actor/creator Maia Lorian, who conceived and enacted — along with Enormvs Muñoz and kelci greenway — Sunday’s gorilla art performance, follows:

What inspired this particular chapter of A Presidential Parody?

My latest ad takeover for A Presidential Parody was made under the truest digital dystopian duress that is 2020. A solo work, from creation through install, made during the last days of my mom’s life. The piece is admittedly darker than my previous works, as virtual vigils and FaceTime goodbyes — followed by my dear mother’s Zoom funeral — took place in the background. This piece is in honor of my mom and every other life tragically lost during the Trump presidency. I like to bring my posters to life, like in a true ad campaign, which allowed this poster to progress into a funeral march

In what way does this current piece — both the ad takeover and the performance — differ from some of your former ones? Your other pieces seemed lighter. And despite your playful costume, it is quite intense.

This takeover is a true product of the 2020 dystopian nightmare reality that came to be under Trump — the poster created and installed during the last day of my mother’s life, with the funeral procession taking place after her Zoom funeral.

This performance piece also entails a procession. Can you tell us something about that?

In a typical funeral you see who’s there, and they’re able to offer condolences. I was filmed at my mom’s and wasn’t able to speak to anyone that attended. Grieving is isolating to begin with; grieving during a pandemic makes it even more so. I imagine there’s a group of us from 2020 that deeply understands what it means to have a FaceTime goodbye with the person you love most.

After my father died, for coping I went out dancing a lot. I was also in a play at the time. Neither of those are realities in 2020. 2020 has consumed so many of us with grief, whether it was loss of a loved one, or loss of employment, loss of ability to socialize the way we used to, even loss of the way we used to be able to hug, and most importantly, the loss of basic human rights. Watching the Trump debacle unfold during these last four years, and now during a pandemic, has been too next level. It’s more important than ever to get out the vote. So I created a funeral march of sorts, to honor my mom and the many other lives tragically lost under the reign of Trump, because it’s time for the Demon Cheeto to go.

We last spoke over a year ago. Have you any further thoughts on the state of our nation?

The country’s become a dumpster fire, but we have to keep trying, or it’ll just get worse. We must vote Trump out of office, ultimately- this work is to help to get out the vote.

What do you see as your personal mission in these dire times?

To help get out the vote and get Trump out of office. I come from a background in comedy — CollegeHumor, The Onion, SNL. Trump’s reign has been so negatively absurd, it’s been made up of laugh and cry at the same time moments — moments of horrified disbelief, so I like to unite people with laughter, since we all may be crying on the inside.

And what’s ahead for you?

I will keep on creating, fighting, and trying to help make a difference by using my privilege to subvert, owning my risk with embrace, and hope my mom and dad are up above, watching and protecting.

Thank you for what you are doing. And I am sorry for your loss.

Note: Maia’s wonderful wings were created in collaboration with Matt Siren

Photo credits: 1 Courtesy of Maia Lorian 2-7 Lois Stavsky 

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Pictured above in Part II of our documentation of the politically-driven “Shared Freedom” mural art project — curated by Will Power at First Street Green Art Park — is Calicho Arevalo‘s playful mural, as captured by Ana Candelaria. A few more artworks follow — with even more to be featured on the StreetArtNYC Instagram page.

NYC-based Miami-native Sacsix, “Chokey on the Smokey”

NYC-based multimedia artist Early Riser

Painter, actor and professional skateboarder Danny Minnick in front of huge segment of his beguiling mural — as captured by Berky

Veteran Bronx-based graffiti writer and painter Zimad – as captured by Berky

And Zimad earlier at work — as captured by Berky

Painter and graff master Heart1

And Heart1 — with spray can in hand — as captured by Berky

While visiting the “Shared Freedom” mural art project, be sure to stop by the  POP UP GET OUT THE VOTE / RETAIL STORE that has been set up  adjacent to First Street Green Art Park — on 35 E 1st Street. And don’t forget to VOTE!

Photo credits: 1 Ana Candelaria; 2, 3 & 7 Lois Stavsky and 4, 5, 6 & 8 Berky

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