One of the jobs of the Art Institute’s crack legal department is to help protect the museum’s trademarks. A trademark, as you may already know, is any word, name, symbol, or other device that indicates the source of goods or services. Trademark law protects a trademark owner against the use of a trademark (or any confusingly similar mark) in a way that is likely to cause confusion. A trademark owner, however, must act vigilantly to protect its trademarks.
One way to help protect a trademark is to apply for a federal trademark registration, which, if successful, entitles the owner to exclusive national use of the mark and the ability to use the cool ® symbol. The Art Institute of Chicago has federal registrations for several of its trademarks, including our name, our red square logo, and each of the iconic lion statues that guard the Michigan Avenue entrance. The image above shows one of our certificates of registration.
From time to time, as a part of the Art Institute’s efforts to protect its trademarks, I send “friendly” (to a lawyer, at least) letters to companies that use our trademarks without permission. We aren’t interested in stopping people from snapping personal photos of the lions, but we cannot allow commercial vendors to wrongly imply that the Art Institute offers, sponsors or endorses goods or services that we have never even seen before.
One recent unauthorized commercial product that crossed the line was a t-shirt featuring one of the lions (our registered trademark) over the text “The Art Institute of Chicago” (our registered trademark), along with the phrase “Show Me the Monet” (unlikely to ever be an Art Institute trademark). Concerned that the public might believe that the shirt was sold or approved by the Art Institute, I sent a letter to the vendor which went something like this: “Dear vendor … our valuable registered trademarks … unauthorized commercial product … likelihood of confusion … knock it off.”
The story has a happy ending, involving no blood or tears. The vendor acknowledged its mistake and offered to do whatever was necessary to secure approval of the shirt. The business people in our Museum Shop worked out an arrangement with the vendor involving some changes to the shirt and a formal license agreement. And thus were the Art Institute’s trademarks and the t-shirt-buying public kept safe from the likelihood of confusion.
Although I was saddened by the departure of the James Castle exhibition from the newish Prints and Drawings galleries (124-127), the Prints and Drawings curators have now installed the space with Modern in America: Works on Paper, 1900–1950s, an exhibition of modern works from the department’s collection. The exhibition is a visually rich complement to the Art Institute’s new catalogue, American Modernism at the Art Institute of Chicago: From World War I to 1955, prepared by the Department of American Art.
Martha Tedeschi, the Prints and Drawings curator who organized the exhibition, was kind enough to walk me through the galleries and discuss how she selected and arranged the works. Whenever possible, she chose prints and drawings featured in the American Modernism catalogue, such as Rufino Tamayo’s 1943 work The Fruit Vendor, pictured above. She then looked for other notable works by artists in the catalogue. Finally, the exhibition was completed by choosing a broad range of works that played off of other works in visually and/or historically interesting ways.
As we approach the March opening of our Matisse show, we are finalizing the last details of the exhibition catalogue. It will be a 368-page book, with over 650 illustrations: in other words, BIG!
As you might guess, making a catalogue of this size and scope is no small task. Besides the authors and research and conservation teams from the Art Institute and MoMA that have generated the original material, we have a team of people in our Publications department dedicated to pulling it all together. Editors work with the authors to review the texts and make their message clear and concise, and to integrate all of the various written elements with images to make a book that flows for the reader. At the same time, other members of our department are collaborating on the photo editing and production of the book: gathering and clearing rights for the images being reproduced in the book, coordinating new photography, color correcting images to make sure they look as much like the actual artworks as possible, and supervising the printing. The designer lays out the text and images, working very carefully to pull of the details together visually. Possibly most interesting of all is the high degree of involvement by the Matisse Estate–every image of a work by Matisse that appears in the catalogue is reviewed and approved by them before publication. In the end, the entire editing and production process must be completed while working within our budget and staying on schedule: a daunting task!
It is always worth it in the end. The exhibition will be open for a short three months, but the catalogue will be available for years to come: we like to think of it as a lasting monument to a momentous gathering of objects from around the world.