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Interview: Yayoi Shionoiri on Chris Burden, Nancy Rubins and Art Law

Interview: Yayoi Shionoiri on Chris Burden, Nancy Rubins and Art Law


Interview: Yayoi Shionoiri on Chris Burden, Nancy Rubins and Art Law

Yayoi Shionoiri

Yayoi Shionoiri is the Executive Director to the Estate of Chris Burden and the Studio of Nancy Rubins, where she is responsible for stewarding Burden’s art historical legacy and promoting Rubins’s artistic practice. She also serves as U.S. Alliance Partner to City Lights Law, a Japanese law firm that represents creators, innovators, and artists, and as an Outside Board Director to Startbahn, an art technology company that is attempting to bring greater reliability to transactions in the art ecosystem.

Yayoi is also a published specialist in art law. From 2015 to 2019, she served as General Counsel and Head of Asia Strategy to Artsy, responsible for all legal matters of the company’s global operations, advising on corporate transactions, intellectual property issues, technology start-up management and operations, and digital media strategy. From 2011 to 2015, Yayoi was the Associate General Counsel of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, providing legal services for matters including exhibitions and non- profit operations. From 2008 to 2011, she served as Legal Advisor to renowned Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, managing his contract negotiations and worldwide intellectual property rights. 

This week, The Artling had the opportunity to speak to Yayoi on the legal industry, her role as the executive director of the Nancy Rubins Studio and the Chris Burden Estate, and her perspectives on art law. 

Chris Burden, Urban Light, 2008, Photo courtesy of LACMA

Tell us about your journey; What drew you to the legal industry, and more specifically, the area of art and law and how have your roles within this field evolved?

I knew I wanted to be in the art world when I went to law school – it just took me a lot of time and hard work to get there! Practicing at the intersection of art and the law would require me to have a wide range of expertise in various bodies of law, but, perhaps more importantly, have broad knowledge about the art world and its stakeholders.

Leaving the world of corporate law, I went back to graduate school to study art history while serving as legal counsel to Takashi Murakami.  With opportunities since then to work across the art world, I’ve been able to provide legal advice and support to artists (currently for the Chris Burden Estate and the Nancy Rubins Studio), non-profits and institutions (having previously served as Associate General Counsel for the Guggenheim), and internet start-ups (such as Startbahn and Artsy).

As the executive director of Nancy Rubins Studio and the Chris Burden Estate, tell us more about what your role involves.

For the Chris Burden Estate, my focus is strategic and broad, stewarding his legacy as a groundbreaking performance and conceptual artist. I focus my work in several areas, including the continued building of art historical and art critical analysis, sustaining his market, and helping to realize his unrealized works, all while taking into consideration what we know of Burden’s intent. This work takes time – time to germinate ideas and have them come to fruition.  

With Nancy Rubins, who is a living artist of sculptural works, my role is more closely related to traditional studio management, helping to create an environment in which she can think and work and to facilitate new opportunities to exhibit her work.  

I am lucky to have a fabulous team that supports both of these roles, including a core group in Topanga, California. Estate stewardship and studio management require similar objectives, but the strategies and time horizons lead to different approaches.

Nancy Rubins, Fluid Space at Gagosian, Photo by Brian Guido

From working as Takashi Murakami’s legal counsel to Associate General Counsel at the Guggenheim Museum, how have these experiences shaped your perspective on art law in the art industry? (What has changed and what hasn't)

Both on the commercial and non-profit sides of the art world, a fair amount of capital and value changes hands.  Although some regulations are being put into place in parts of the global art world (including the EU’s Anti Money Laundering Directive), the art market remains largely unregulated.  Not only does this mean that stakeholders in the art market may be incentivized to speculate, but it also leads to artists and their careers experiencing the whims of the market.  It is heartening to see some of my colleagues at the forefront of effecting change through revisions to legal precedent or thinking about how design thinking can better reflect a fluid set of rules that help the community.

You recently lead a landmark case pertaining to a major copyright infringement with Chris Burden’s work - tell us more about what happened and how you think that sets a precedent for future cases.

We recently pursued a copyright infringement lawsuit in Indonesia against a theme park that was charging admission and fees to take selfies in front of an attraction called Love Light – which looks extremely similar to Burden’s Urban Light (2008).  It was wonderful to work with members of IABF Law Firm and Dr. Miranda Risang Ayu Palar on this case.  Earlier this year, the Indonesian court concluded that the theme park violated Burden’s moral rights by copying and modifying Urban Light without mentioning Burden’s name and without the Estate’s permission, and violated Burden’s economic rights by displaying and taking commercial advantage of Love Light.  Indonesian courts do not hear copyright claims very often, especially from non-Indonesian artists, so this decision sets a groundbreaking precedent that artist rights can be protected internationally through the existing copyright framework, supporting artists throughout the world.

 Nancy Rubins, Chas' Stainless Steel, Mark Thomson's Airplane Parts, about 1,000 lbs. of Stainless Steel Wire & Gagosian's Beverly Hills Space at MOCA, 2002

Vacheron Constantin recently took as inspiration Chris Burden’s Metropolis II to redesign elements of their New Flagship Boutique Store; how have you seen large brands approaching such collaborations with artists and do you see that as an opportunity and ongoing trend?

We are seeing a greater trend towards brand partnerships, and I think possibilities for artists will continue to expand. These collaborations will take many different forms – from artists’ images that are reproduced, to artists more actively collaborating on the design of objects. These collaborations provide opportunities for artists to receive greater exposure, but successful collaborations must always support and celebrate the artist’s creativity. During what would have been Burden’s 75th milestone year, we wanted to embark on a project that helped to expand awareness of his artwork to new audiences, and we believe our collaboration with Vacheron Constantin has achieved that goal.

What significant changes have you witnessed in the art world over the last 10 years, and how do these changes impact art law?

When I first started my career, the field of art law had not yet grown to be the field it has now, and there were fewer trailblazers whose paths I could follow. More and more people in the art world have come to realize that the law, often considered a rigid structure, can support artistic creativity. There is a far greater need now for legal professionals who understand the art world, and it has been inspiring to see a new generation of art workers and lawyers who are interested in the field.  As the profession continues to expand and roles become more normalized, the art world will provide different kinds of opportunities for legal professionals. Through this expansion of the field, I hope to ensure that legal skills continue to be applied in a way that strengthens the art world.

Nancy Rubins, Fluid Space at Gagosian, Photo by Brian Guido

We just saw a tremendous spike in NFT activity, followed by a similar dip. Could you share your views about NFTs and its impact on the art world? How has the rise of NFTs affected the legal areas in art such as contracts, intellectual property, and ownership?

The NFT is not new by any means, and, for me, it’s just another form of digital art. What’s interesting from a legal perspective is that the idea of non-fungible ownership, traditionally used for tangible property, is now being applied to something digital.  As the initial trendiness of NFTs in the legacy art world has passed, I think artists who have not used the digital medium may now have a true opportunity to experiment. But, at the same time, I do not think that all artists need to mint and issue NFTs. As legal frameworks shape the NFT market, it will be interesting to see how the art world continues to think about the longevity and archival prospects of NFTs, and to see how interoperability among the various NFT marketplaces can be achieved.

What advice do you have for artists and creatives? What should they be looking out for?

At least in the U.S., artists and creatives are expected to be successful entrepreneurs, in the sense that they may need to rent or own studio space, purchase materials (and keep track of materials inventory and available artwork), and have employees or contractors. Artists and creatives will need to either gain the skills needed to run a small business or rely on team members and external professionals for help. I believe that artists understanding the legal tools available to them and the standard business practices of the art world, will support them in their artistic practice.


Follow Yayoi's art journey on Instagram! >> @yayoi_shionoiri 

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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