Monday, May 05, 2008

Öyvind Fahlström also has a widow



Many artists have created games to satisfy their aesthetic and political longings, Duchamp a prime example. Then there is the singular case of Öyvind Fahlström (1928-1976), painter, installation artist, poet, critic, creator of happenings, co-conspirator with Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Kluver. Within a very varied body of work, he produced several world political paintings with movable magnetic elements in the early 1970s, modeled after the famous Monopoly game board, dealing with the Vietnam War and with the global realpolitik of emerging nations in the Third World.

I do not believe Parker Brothers ever went to court for copyright infringement in this matter, but at the time there was no possibility of putting it on the internet and no concomitant threat of commercial exploitation. The board game pieces were one offs, or at most small editions. Still, Fahlström was decidedly subversive, anti-authoritarian and leftist, as well as an early adopter of new or alternative media in his work. Had the possibility of widespread internet dissemination been available, it is quite possible he would have used it, and then landed in legal hot water.

A Parker Brothers lawsuit against Fahlström would have come from the usual defenders, the pitbulls of corporate intellectual property. But the legal harassment Alex Galloway is currently receiving from Guy Debord's widow is particularly ironic, in that it unexpectedly emanates from within anarchist/Marxist/Situationist circles, from what one might assume to be friendly quarters. Were there not in fact a real live lawsuit, the whole thing would seem staged, like a prank or post-Structuralist agitprop performance: let's sue for copyright infringement in the name of Debord, who never met a © he didn't want to deface.

We can carry the irony one step further. Should anyone now wish to disseminate Fahlström’s games online, or possibly even re-interpret the Monopoly board from his particular perspective, without first gaining the proper permission and satisfying strict protocols from his estate, they would most likely meet strenuous opposition if not an actual lawsuit from another overly protective art widow: Sharon Avery Fahlström.


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