(Image by Getty)

Last month, we covered a brewing conflict involving Sam Kerson, Vermont Law School (VLS),  and public opinion over if covering a public piece of artwork was a modification that violated the federal Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). I thought that Mr. Kerson had a good case for preventing the school from covering up his slice of Americana. However, it looks like U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford did not. He ruled that VLS could cover up the mural, on the basis that “[it] will have the same status as a portrait or bust that is removed from public exhibition and placed in storage.”

While that may be the case factually, I’m not sure if it follows symbolically. Sure, covering up a mural is like placing it in storage, in so far as it’s no longer publicly available, but the VARA is a law concerned with an artist’s dignity, honor, and reputation. And considering that the force driving the impetus to cloak the mural stems from accusations that it depicts black people in a way Crawford refers to as “cartoonish” and “almost animalistic,” covering up the mural would have an effect on the public understanding of the artwork and the artist that would not usually apply to a museum’s storing of a sculpture in the back to clear some room for an incoming 18th century pottery display. Depictions of black liberation have been politically and socially charged for a very long time — their being covered up or stored away is not some neutral event that happens without changing the meaning of the encounter with it.

But hey, I’m no judge. Other judges will likely weigh in though, as Mr. Kerson said he plans on appealing the decision to the Second Circuit.

I’m curious to see how this plays out. If this climbs the court tier list and it turns out I was right, I told you so. If more verdicts come down that mirror this one, well… art is subjective anyway.

Judge: Vermont Law School Can Cover Controversial Murals [VTDigger]

Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. Before that, he wrote columns for an online magazine named The Muse Collaborative under the pen name Knehmo. He endured the great state of Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at cwilliams@abovethelaw.com and by tweet at @WritesForRent.


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