Art, at the Museum's Expense

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art seeks to prosecute two artists who made a movie using tapes from the museum's CCTV cameras.

Two artists, one of them a former security guard at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, used live footage from the museum's CCTV cameras to make a movie exploring the inadequacies of the museum's security system in 2005. The museum, which had not authorized use of the footage, has blocked the movie's screening and has sued the artists.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, Tel Aviv District Court discussed the lawsuit against the two artists. Is security inadequate at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and are the artists justified in questioning this and turning the museum's operations into a movie?

Professor Mordechai Omer, the museum's director, says he was shocked to learn from Time Out magazine in February 2005 that two artists had used the museum's CCTV cameras to make a nine-minute movie titled "Watchmen." The movie, which builds on the expression "who will watch the watchmen," shows one of the artists wearing a mask and pretending to be a robber, hugging a statue, running frantically around it, putting a hat on it and kneeling in front of it.

The movie was about to be screened at Tel Aviv's central bus station.

A day before the scheduled screening, Omer asked for an urgent interim injunction to block it. He said the movie's creation involved a legal offense and that showing it could harm the museum's reputation as a well-guarded institution.

The injunction was issued, and the screening was banned. The museum sued the artists for slander, for harming its reputation, honor and property, and for violating the rights of artists on exhibition. The museum also asked for the movie to be banned permanently, claiming that it could deter collectors from contributing works and artists from exhibiting there.

Omer argued that the artists had harmed works of art, by treating them with contempt and denigrating them.

Attorney Avigdor Feldman, who represents the artists, asked Omer in court: "Is exhibiting a urinal in a museum denigration?" He was referring to one of Marcel Duchamp's most famous works.

"It's a pity you don't attend my lectures," Omer replied. "It's not denigration."

"And exhibiting a picture of Mona Lisa with a mustache, is that denigration?" Feldman asked.

"No," replied Omer.

The museum's attorney Ehud Gera responded to Haaretz that Duchamp's work was not a fair comparison.