Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has been hearing voices from the art world lately.
He's heard the murmurings of discontented artists demanding royalties from the resale of their works, and the muffled arguments against royalties from art collectors and curators.
Until yesterday, things were relatively quiet.
But then Waxman announced at a meeting of artists and collectors in the Rayburn House Office Building his intention to introduce a Visual Arts Residual Bill in Congress this fall. A whirlwind ensued.
Many individual artists and representatives of artists' groups support Waxman's proposed bill, or at least the idea behind it. If an artist sells a work for a small price early in his career, and the work is later resold at a much greater price, under provisions of the proposal the artist would get a precentage of the profit.
Ideally, this would help artists keep a close association with their works and help them financially.
But the buyers and sellers of art are against the bill.
"Once it is out of the artist's hands, works of art are commodities and should be give the same considerations of any commodity on any market," said lawyer Stephen Weil. "Unfortunately, nobody's got to have art, especially contemporary art."
The artistic middleman said they are worried about what such a bill would do to the speculative art market, i.e. their pocketbooks, and the artists said they wanted to make a symbolic gesture in support of contemporary act, i.e. starving artists.
But its not event that simple.
Not all artists support the bill, as Waxman found out. Bruce Beasley, a Californian artist, attended the meeting prepared to battle for the artists' right to be left along.
"I disagree with the basic philosophical aspect of the argument that somehow artists are being exploited," he said. "When one of my works resells for $20,000, I don't feel exploited. I know then that I can up my prices on other things."
Representative from artistic organization supporting the proposed bill, like Artists Equity, Organization of Independent Artists, and Artists Rights, today shook their heads sadly at the dissent among the ranks.
The controversy centers around profits. How can the government help artists make more money and encourage unknown artists at the same time vs. why should the government do anything, anyway?
"What we're talking about here is profit sharing," said attorney Hamner Sandison, representing Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts from California. "But whenever we start to talk about redistributing wealth, those that have wealth start talking about the market being killed."
Last year, California passed a bill similar to Waxman's, and the controversy over it has still not subsided.
Benjamin Horowitz, president of the Southern Calfornia Dealers Assn., spent much of the meeting describing what he said was the failure of the California law.
"The consequences in California have been very disruptive," he said. "We've found that people purchase not more, but less art."
"We know there are problems, said a supporter of the California bill, but we want to show that the government cares about the artist and the encouragement of his work."