Home » Artist Rebecca Belmore Sued by Toronto Dealer

Artist Rebecca Belmore Sued by Toronto Dealer

By now it’s all over the web. The story began when Anishnaabe artist Rebecca Belmore yelled “I quit!” after a performance outside the VAG in Vancouver last Saturday titled WORTH (–statement of Defence), leading many in the art world to think that she may well do just that, frustrated as she is by an ongoing legal battle with her Toronto dealer, Pari Nadimi.

Rebecca Belmore, View of the Artist and Truck, 2009. Image: canadianart.ca

According to a press release, the performance “demonstrates the artist’s public commitment to vigorously defending herself, her art practice and more broadly, the rights of all artists against those who seek to exploit them.

Watch the performance on YouTube HERE.

Rebecca Belmore, Ayem-ee-aawach Ooma-mowan: Speaking to the Mother, 1991-6. Image: digitalmediatree.com

The Globe and Mail has an informative article, HERE, which quotes lawyer and Belmore acquaintance Paul Bain as saying that he doesn’t think she’ll actually quit. “I think she was feeling powerless and frustrated. Staging a performance was the best way for her to vent and get some points across.

Another view of the megaphone performance. Image: rebeccabelmore.com

The suit is over alleged breach of contract, when Ms. Belmore decided to leave the gallery in 2004.From the Globe: “Ms. Nadimi alleges breach of contract in Ms. Belmore’s decision to leave the gallery, and wrongful interference: The statement of claim alleges Ms. Belmore stopped a sale of her work Megaphone to the National Gallery, which was “embarrassing to the Art Gallery, damaging to Ms. Nadimi’s professional reputation and caused her significant mental distress.”

Rebecca Belmore, Fountain, 2005. Image: conundrumonline.org

Belmore is known for her installation at the 2005 Venice Biennale, where she represented Canada with a video Fountain, in which she splashed around in some water before throwing a bucket of what turns out to be blood, at the camera. The piece was not her best, in my opinion, though the curtain of blood/water dripping down the camera lens was a neat touch.

It’s a shame that Megaphone – what I regard as Belmore’s most touching and significant work, with the related performance – should be the object of such a dispute. Belmore has established the Rebecca Belmore Legal Fund, which has a Facebook page. You can access that HERE. She is asking for your help. Find out more about that by going to THIS website, which may be locked. Alternatively, email rebeccabelmorelegalfund@shaw.ca.

What are your thoughts on this?  Should artists have the right to step in and stop sales that the dealer works hard to accomplish?  At what point does the artist relinquish control of their work to a dealer? Once the work is with a dealer, how to best avoid differences of opinion?

8 Responses to “Artist Rebecca Belmore Sued by Toronto Dealer”

  1. Gordon Hatt says:

    I don’t think this is fair comment Rebecca Belmore’s action came after a long business relationship with her dealer. To isolate this action and question it without putting into the larger context is a gross simplification.

  2. VF says:

    I would like to hear the gallerist’s side of the story as well in this particular situation. If there is a sale in progress, I think the artist should let it be and let the sale go through. I do not believe that a gallerist has the right to withhold funds and/or artworks from the artist if the artist request their work back. Now, it depends on the contract they signed together… does it state that the artist must give the gallerist at least a month’s notice or so before removing his/her artwork and requesting funds? If so, she can’t just waltz into the gallery and take the work back and demand the money. There is paperwork and etiquette involved. This is why I’d like to hear the gallerist’s side of the story, too.

  3. Jessie Caryl says:

    In contemporary art it’s generally understood that artists keep a hand in the work throughout its life, reshaping it physically when varied installation or conservation needs arise, and reframing it discursively in relation to later works or exhibition contexts — because the work keeps on gaining meaning in relation to the artist’s practice.

    The idea that an artist sends a work to a dealer like pigs to market, thereby giving up all power in determining the work’s context, is an odd outdated notion. No reputable contemporary art dealer would expect that an artist relinquish all say in the placement of his or her works. And the value of the artist’s continued input is particularly plain when it comes to the Megaphone work, comprised as it is of so many voices.

  4. VF says:

    She should have read the contract.

    Also, what makes you think that she didn’t want to sell the work on her own terms, thereby cutting the gallery out? That’s not fair to the gallery. If it weren’t for galleries, museums, etc., artists would be nothing. It’s harsh but it’s true.

  5. Lonnie Mowers says:

    I think I would have to read the contract for the details between the gallery and the artist, but without reading it two issues come to mind:

    1. No artist from Canada (who reads the paper anyway) will likely exhibit with the gallery in the near future.
    2. The gallerist must realize the artist is unlikely to have this amount of money, and even if she wins, the court costs etc. could make it a not-so-profitable venture.
    3. Given 1 and 2, it strikes me the suit could be driven by anger and vindictiveness.
    4. The gallery in question allegedly makes little effort to sell the work, so this may be an issue too – ie, did the gallery do what was set out in the contract?

  6. Nicholas Brown says:

    VF- if it weren’t for artists, museums and galleries would be nothing. Your attitude is appalling, which is why it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’d be rushing to the aid of the dealer in question. God help us if you work in the arts.

  7. C says:

    Actually without the artists, the galleries and museums would be nothing. The artists would just be artists.

    Nothing is creepier than the ego of galleries. You sell and promote objects… that’s it.
    Harsh but true.

    Also, despite any contractual obligations, the work is on consignment and is still the property of the artist. I think Nadimi will have a hard time getting anything in court… I hope she enjoys her new reputation.

    Sorry for the bile, but I know of very few artists who haven’t been burned by a gallery at least once… I know of even fewer who had the resources to go to court over it.

  8. Earl Miller says:

    Some info on the Belmore suit answering some of the questions raised in this thread can be found here:


    It is from Belmore’s point of view, which I think is fair since Pari Nadimi has already made their case.

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