THE BRITISH COMEDY SITCOM Peep Show chronicles an Odd Couple sort of roommate dynamic, and there is one early episode in which the slacker musician roommate Jez is verbally commissioned by an old classmate of his to do a music bit for a Honda commercial. When his classmate refuses to pay him for his work, a very funny segment ensues in which Jez, his strung-out musical partner Super Hans, and his uptight nerdy corporate roommate Mark go to his friend’s door with baseball bats to demand payment. But they are not tough guys and they are reluctant to actually throw a punch; as Jez knocks mail off the table and Hans dumps cereal on the floor, Mark becomes increasingly anxious, and then he hilariously exclaims, complete with whiny hand gestures, “this is the whole point about contract law! The whole point of a contract is to make sure this kind of thing never happens!”
Likewise, a recent public scuffle closer to home might have been avoided had contract law been utilized between the Downtown Ithaca Alliance and area artist Jim Garmhausen, who said that representatives of the DIA threw away his art installation without his permission. Cyber-fracas erupted in the online arena of social networking Friday when a letter from Garmhausen was circulated around Facebook. The letter provoked commentary from Ithaca residents who were irritated on Garmhausen’s behalf, as well as the offer of a rebuttal statement from DIA marketing and events manager Matthew Riis.
Garmhausen writes that the installation he created last spring, which was made of a series of hanging painted liquor bottles, hung in an empty storefront on the Commons throughout the summer into early September. After that, “I was given permission to store the bottles in the empty building until further notice. The building contained items from 2 other groups, and I was assured there was no hurry in getting my work out,” Garmhausen writes.
Last week, Garmhausen writes, he pursued the DIA for an answer about how to get his work, and he was informed that the work had been thrown away. The person who threw the work away, Garmhausen writes, admitted she knew the work was his and also admitted that no one made an attempt to contact him. This person also did not contact the agency Garmhausen was working with regarding the piece before it was thrown away.
A written statement by Matthew Riis on behalf of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance indicates that Garmhausen was asked to remove the installation at the end of August, and that upon taking the project down, Mr. Garmhausen was given permission by DIA to store the bottles in the vacant store front.
DIA does not own the property, Riis writes in his statement, and indicates that Garmhausen was aware that it is often used by other merchants and also opened to the public.
“Mr. Garmhausen left his art in the abandoned building for a period of 2 months,” Riis writes.
Another area of contention between the two statements is in regards to compensation that Garmhausen received for the project. Riis writes that Garmhausen received a modest stipend for completing the work and additional compensation after the work was completed. He did not indicate how much the stipend or subsequent compensation amounted to.
Garmhausen writes that he was given $150 for supplies and that DIA is now claiming to have “bought” the work with this supply money.
“How do you value your work, monetarily?” Garmhausen writes. “Per hour or per piece? This installation took 50 hours to complete, and over 60 bottles were painted.”
Riis’ statement indicates that the installation was thrown away by accident. Because a new tenant signed a lease in the property last week, he writes, DIA was asked to remove everything left behind in the building.
“Mr. Garmhausen’s art was in a box that contained numerous other unpainted, empty liquor bottles,” Riis writes. “As a result of human error, Mr. Garmhausen’s art piece was removed and sent to recycling by a DIA staff member.”
Riis writes that DIA has apologized to Garmhausen both in writing and in person, but that “in person dialogue escalated to the point at which Mr. Garmhausen became violent and exited our office and the surrounding building.”
“I see this as an attempt to attack my character and take focus off the main issue,” Garmhausen returned in an email to the Post. “First off, there were no face to face apologies. Matt took me aside, outside the DIA offices, and told me, in his own way, that the loss of my art was my fault. He rejected the idea that fault lay with the DIA, himself, or any DIA employees.”
Riis’ statement expresses “regret” for the “unfortunate mistake” and “egregious error.” He indicates that Garmhausen intends to pursue further legal action “at the advice of his atttorney.”
In the letter circulated on Facebook, Garmhausen asks for people to write to Gary Ferguson of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance on his behalf. While Ferguson was not involved in the incident, Garmhausen writes, he oversees those who were.
“Have you ever encountered a place or agency that throws art away without any attempt to contact the artist?” Garmhausen writes. “Every other person who had items in the building was contacted. Every one, except me. What’s that all about?”
The agreement between Garmhausen and DIA was entirely verbal, Riis writes in his statement, and neither Garmhausen nor the DIA requested a written contract.
“In hindsight this is an unfortunate oversight on behalf of both parties,” Riis writes.
“I think if the DIA is serious about working with artists, it needs to get organized, get facts about art handling and shows, and put everything having to do with showing, and picking up art, in writing,” Garmhausen wrote in his email to the Post. “…I feel that any sort of arrangements that the DIA enters into with artists in the future should require a contract. I was unwise to not seek one.”
“If I gain nothing else,” he continued, “perhaps I make public the idea that art is something that must be considered very carefully, by anyone who chooses to handle and display it. Artists make a deep personal connection to the manifestations of their creativity, and losses, damage, etc. are felt keenly.”
Garmhausen indicated that he plans to contact legal aid services for artists to see if there is a chance for compensation, because, as he emailed to us, “I feel a deep loss here.” He went on to express gratitude to the DIA for the opportunity of the exhibit, to Gary Ferguson and to Riis for their help during the installation.
“It felt, at the time, mutually beneficial,” Garmhausen said. “This is an unfortunate ending.”
After sending the DIA statement, Riis did not respond to emails for further comment.
Danielle Winterton is an Editor at Large for The Ithaca Post.