Artist Awarded $1 For Lost Work

Judge Rules 'Wildflower Works' Doesn't Qualify For Federal Protection

In a decision followed by artists who create with non-traditional materials, a federal judge in Chicago has ruled that a Grant Park flower garden is art -- but not art enough to be covered by federal protection.

Artist Chapman Kelley sued the Chicago Park District for “destroying” a garden he planted near Daley Bicentennial Plaza in 1984, a 1 ½-acre plot of wildflowers.

In 2004 the district reduced the garden by about half.

The artist referred to the wildflower garden he created more than 20 years ago as “my Mona Lisa.”

"The 66,000-square-foot plot of 45 different kinds of species splashed yellow and purple when in full bloom," according to blogger Christopher Hudgens.   

Then Mayor Harold Washington is said to have called the garden a “magnificent piece of art.”

Kelley claimed the garden was protected under federal law and the agreement he had with the district said that if it was to be removed, he would have the option of relocating the plants.

In a ruling made public Tuesday, Judge David H. Coar said Kelley’s “Wildflower Works” was “a work of visual art” but since it could not be copyrighted and the garden was site-specific, it was not protected by the Visual Artists Rights Act.

Coar did award Kelley $1 because the district did not inform Kelley of the reduction in time for the artist to remove the plants. However, the cost of relocating them would have exceeded their worth, Coar figured.

Kelley’s disappointment was offset a bit by Coar’s determination that works from nontraditional materials could be legally defined as art.

“Artists around the world win. Chapman Kelley’s pocketbook loses,” Kelley said.

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