Entertainment

Belmore supporters auction art in her defence

Several of Canada's leading contemporary artists, including Douglas Coupland and Rodney Graham, have donated work for an auction that will raise money for a legal defence fund for Vancouver's Rebecca Belmore.

Vancouver artist in legal tussle with dealer

Vancouver artist Rebecca Belmore needs a legal fund to defend herself against her former art dealer. ((Hnatyshyn Foundation))

Several of Canada's leading contemporary artists, including Douglas Coupland and Rodney Graham, have donated work for an auction that will raise money for a legal defence fund for Vancouver's Rebecca Belmore.

Belmore, a First Nations artist known for her darkly humorous videos and performance art, is engaged in a legal battle with her former dealer.

The dealer, Toronto-based Pari Nadimi Gallery, alleged breach of contract after the artist attempted to end her relationship with the gallery in late 2006. The gallery has claimed $750,000 in compensation.

Pari Nadimi of the Pari Nadimi Gallery declined a request for an interview by CBC News.

Belmore told CBC News she couldn't comment on the case, as it is being considered in civil court. However, she advised young artists to seek out advice before signing with a dealer.

"It’s not just about me. It’s about artists' rights. It’s great that such prominent artists have come forward because it will point out how significant this lawsuit is, in terms of what it could mean," she said.

Belmore, who represented Canada at the 2005 Venice Biennale and was recently featured in a major solo exhibit in Vancouver, is happy that artists rallied to her aid with the auction idea.

"Maybe, somehow, issues that are part of this situation will be brought to the forefront and some good will come out of it," she said.

Idea emerged 'organically'

"The auction is really about giving Rebecca the power to defend herself," said Paul Bain, a Toronto entertainment lawyer who is co-organizing the auction.

"Litigation lawyers are expensive."

Bain said the idea of the auction emerged "organically" from concerned people within the art community. Bains himself is not involved with the legal case.

"This is an extraordinary case in my view and that's why it's caused such a groundswell. A lot of artists have come forward with offers of support. I started getting calls from people and they started offering works," he said.

Among the works to be auctioned is a Coupland print valued at $1,900, a Kelly Mark lightbox sculpture valued at $5,000 and a work by internationally known Graham, valued at $15,000.

"As fellow artists we wouldn't want to be in that situation. I don't think it's a very common situation, but we want to show our support for Rebecca as part of the art community," said Toronto artist Jennifer Marman, who has donated a work with fellow artist Daniel Borins.

Belmore says 'I quit'

Belmore's legal battle gained a higher profile in September, when she staged a performance outside the Vancouver Art Gallery that concluded with the dramatic words: "I quit." At that point, she was so upset over the legal case, she was ready to leave the art world altogether.

Belmore said she was shocked to be sued by a dealer and that the process has taken her down "another path" than she was on five years ago, when the split first happened.

"I’ve had to figure out how to maintain my integrity, my belief that being an artist, that art is a worthwhile practice and profession that deserves respect," she said.  

Any money raised that is not used for Belmore's defence will be put in a trust fund for other artists who may find themselves in a similar predicament.

Belmore has been exhibited internationally since 1987 and is a winner of the Hnatyshyn Award for visual arts.