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Martin v. City of Indianapolis

Martin v. City of Indianapolis
192 F.3d 608 (1999)

FACTS
Martin is a sculptor and creator Symphony #1, a large, outdoor metal sculpture located on city land. Martin had a contract with the city to preserve the sculpture and he engineered the sculpture in a manner that it could later be removed and reassembled. Martin’s sculpture received several awards and recognition by local press. The city then demolished the sculpture without notifying Martin.

PROCEUDRE
Martin brought suit against the city for a violation of his rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) of 1990. Martin attempted to offer evidence that his sculpture was one of “recognized stature” under VARA through newspaper clippings and articles, rather than expert testimony. Martin was granted summary judgment. The city appealed and Martin cross-appealed.

ISSUE
Whether, a sculptor can prove a VARA claim after the unauthorized destruction of his sculpture by showing that his work was one of “recognized stature?”

HOLDING
Yes.

VISUAL ARTIST RIGHTS ACT (VARA) OF 1990
VARA protects an artists rights to claim authorship and to disclaim authorship in appropriate circumstances, including the mutilation or modification of a “work of visual art” that would be prejudicial to the artists honor or reputation. Moreover, the author of a work of visual art shall have the right to prevent any destruction of “a work of recognized stature” and any “intentionally or grossly negligent destruction of that works is a violation of that right.”

REASONING
To determine if a work of visual art is one of “recognized stature,” the court applied the test articulated in Carter v. Helmsey-Spear? which found that a “recognized stature” is proved if the work of art has: (1) merit or intrinsic worth and (2) public acknowledgement of the merit. To satisfy the public acknowledgement prong, the work of visual art must be recognized by art experts or members of the artistic community and is proven by expert testimony as to stature of the work of art in the community.

The Court reasoned that the Carter test does not require the onerous burden of expert testimony when a work of visual art is destroyed because it is impossible to elicit first-hand expert testimony or evidence concerning the work since was no longer in existence. As a result, Martin can introduce articles and letters concerning his work of visual art.

The Court reasoned that such evidence does not qualify as hearsay because the plaintiff is not offering them for their truth, rather they are being offered to show that the declarant’s said such statements about the plaintiffs work of visual art.

RULE OF LAW
A plaintiff may use articles, letters, etc. in lieu of an expert witness to prove a work of “recognized stature” when an expert is not available to testify because of the destruction of the work of art and the use of such is not considered hearsay.

DISPOSITION
Martin entitled to VARA rights but not enhanced damages because the City’s conduct was not willful.


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