Martin Meersman

THE CARNEGIE VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS CENTER aims, to quote its mission statement, "to utilize our historic building to create a leading arts organization. To this end we will provide a venue for

Jun 27, 2007 at 2:06 pm

THE CARNEGIE VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS CENTER aims, to quote its mission statement, "to utilize our historic building to create a leading arts organization. To this end we will provide a venue for emerging and established artists to create, perform and exhibit; provide educational opportunities for the discovery and enhancement of creativity; and celebrate the arts."

Celebration seems to be the key here, at least in terms of their latest exhibition, A Celebration of Sculpture, which Tamera Lenz Muente has reviewed this week (see page 43), and a celebration of a different sort: that of a major Cincinnati-based corporation's event.

Procter & Gamble (P&G) held its annual "Beauty Awards" at The Carnegie on June 21 and in the process ran into a pretty big obstacle: MARTIN MEERSMAN's sculpture, painstakingly erected over three and a half days, "most of which (was spent) on ladders," he says. "The sculpture was dissembled and removed for the P&G party.

According to Meersman, the removal of his work was an insult. According to Carnegie Interim Executive Director MAUREEN DONNELLY, it was "an unfortunate collision of different events."

Donnelly explains to me from her offices at The Carnegie that the institution is a multi-leveled thing: arts education, a newly rehabbed theater and five gallery spaces. The Carnegie, like nearly all arts institutions (from the Cincinnati Art Museum to the Contemporary Arts Center to the Metropolitan Museum in New York), also rents out its space for private parties.

The P&G Beauty Awards was booked eight months in advance, according to Donnelly.

According to Meersman, e-mailing me from train stations and a hotel in Holland, where he is currently traveling with a group of his Northern Kentucky University students, it was "late summer or early fall of 2006" when he signed his own contract with The Carnegie and not long after when he shared his plans for the monumental piece.

On the night of the exhibition opening, June 1, the P&G event planner, Dora Manual of Viva Bella LLC, and another P&G employee approached Meersman and "offered to buy my piece to have me remove it, but I could keep it," Meersman says. "They said they would like to buy (it) to have it removed from the exhibit because it doesn't fit the 'brand equity' of the P&G beauty division nor the feel of the event they're planning.

"I was incredibly miffed at this point. The opening reception was going really well; it was beautifully cool but sunny evening and, out of nowhere, I'm slapped in the face with a horrible request. ... I cannot believe what I am hearing and need to walk away from them. I politely say that I'll get back to them on Monday with a price if I'm interested in selling."

Meersman called on Monday with a number. The P&G representatives countered with a number that barely covered half of the artists' expenses. The next day, Carnegie Gallery Director Bill Seitz, who was unavailable to comment on this story, called Meersman and let him know that an emergency board meeting would be held to deal with the conflict between Meersman's sculpture and the P&G event.

"The board decided that only my work had to be removed," Meersman says. "Based on the contract between P&G and The Carnegie ... Bill Seitz seemed to be caught in the middle and (I) understand that decisions were made above his control."

In the end, Meersman says he got a "modest" check for $4,500 from Viva Bella. The cost for his materials was "a little over $3,000," which does not include the money he spent on hiring an assistant to install his piece or "the 100-plus hours" he spent creating it.

"After receiving the check, and in the presence of Bill Seitz, I told Kathy Hamm (board president of The Carnegie) that the board had made the wrong decision in having me remove my work and that a board with a working artist or arts educator would have been able to see the other side of the picture.

"To my surprise, she responded, 'If you could write a check for what P&G is writing a check for this event, then maybe your piece would have stayed.' "

Hamm flatly denies the comment.

"There's really no side here," she tells me. "A Carngie employee made a mistake and double-booked the space."

Further, there is a caveat in The Carnegie's contract with artists, which states that when such a mistake occurs the institution has the right to remove the work. Meersman knew the contract and accepted the check for his work.

"We are here to support the arts," Hamm says. "That's why our doors are open. If there were any better way to handle (the situation), trust me, we would have."

The Carnegie is a nonprofit organization. And P&G is certainly an organization that supports the arts, as Muente reports in her review of the exhibition. So what happened?

According to Donnelly, it wasn't a matter of the P&G's party planner's taste it was a problem of space: Between 350 and 450 people came to the Beauty Awards. Meersman's sculpture wasn't the only one that was evicted for the event. An entire side of the exhibition was moved. Meersman's was the only one that needed to be taken apart (i.e., destroyed). The rest returned to their places soon after the event.

Who's right? I respect corporations like P&G for supporting arts institutions. I booked my own wedding at the Contemporary Arts Center.

Parties and art should go hand in hand. But affronted artists and destroyed art? Never.