Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

SF artist in hot seat
over photo installation


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In the Internet age a photo posted online may be used somewhere else and one San Francisco-based artist is involved in a dispute that he took images from a gay dating site and used them in a museum installation without permission.

Artist Marc Adelman is accused of taking 50 profile photos from and creating an art installation that was on display at the Jewish Museum in New York City.

The installation, "Stelen (Columns), 2007-2011," shows different men posed in front of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany. According to Adelman's website description, the installation is meant to show how the memorial has been appropriated by gay men and sexualized.

Stelen (Columns) was included in the Jewish Museum's exhibition, Composed: Identity, Politics, Sex, a selection of photo-based works by seven contemporary artists.

"These artworks engage with conventions of art history and forms of popular culture while exploring overlapping national, ethnic, and sexual identities," said Ann Scher, director of communications of the museum.

After the museum received a complaint by one of the men in the photos, it quickly replied with a letter. The Bay Area Reporter has obtained a copy of the letter, which stated in part, "We had no intention of adversely affecting anyone's reputation or invading anyone's privacy. We understand, however, that the photographs Mr. Adelman used for his work were publicly available to any registered users of the website and that the website's terms did not restrict use of the photos."

Tim Rooks, who discovered his image in a Huffington Post article about the artwork, has been communicating with not only the museum but the artist as well. In an email communication between the two, which he shared with the B.A.R., Adelman says, "First, please allow me to apologize for the distress you have had regarding my work. It was never my intention to create a stressful situation for anyone in regard to the project, and for that I am very, very sorry."

Rooks, who lives in Germany, said that the art has caused him aggravation in trying to set things right.

"It is irresponsible of the artist and the museum to show such images. Even without my name attached numerous people saw it and knew who I was," Rooks said.

But he also took issue with the premise of Adelman's installation, pointing out that the monument "is a very common place for people to take photos regardless of their sexual orientation.", a.k.a. PlanetRomeo, the website from which the images were taken, has a clear privacy policy stated on its site. A spokesman said while they are concerned, they don't hold the copyrights to the images.

"We are always disturbed when any photos or information posted by our users is used by a third party in a manner that they did not originally intend," said Spencer Windes, communications manager. "However, as an open social platform, we do not hold intellectual property over any of the material posted by users on our site."

The terms of use clearly state that no user should violate the intellectual property rights of another party. As soon as the site was notified, it quickly suspended Adelman's profile.

"While we find Mr. Adelman's project to be invasive, unfortunately, we have no legal standing to challenge him beyond suspending him from our site," said Windes, "and we encourage any of our users whose intellectual property may have been violated to take all the steps they feel are necessary to legally protect themselves and assert their rights."

Adelman referred all questions from the B.A.R. to his attorney Douglas Robbins. Robbins insisted that all images of Rooks were taken down and have been removed from all websites.

"Mr. Adelman is a legitimate artist working within a complicated international legal environment," said Robbins. "As far as who has the moral high ground, in a debate between sexual orientation, privacy, artistic expression, Jewish history, and religious identity, that will be an issue for the public to decide."

In a follow-up email conversation with Scher of the museum, what Robbins stated was confirmed and not only was the image of Rooks removed, but the installation itself came down as well.

"As issues have been raised with respect to, in consultation with Mr. Adelman, we have removed Stelen (Columns) from the in-gallery exhibition and images from the work from our website," said Scher.

Rooks, who knows more of the men in the images that were used, is still deciding if he or they as a group will pursue legal action against Adelman or the Jewish Museum.

"As a respected museum, by having had shown this work, they aided and abided in criminal activity and weakened the links between private and public space," said Rooks. "They also promote the idea that anyone can take others' property and do anything he or she wants with it in the name of art."

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