Words that are rarely combined in common nomenclature: parking garage, art, and intellectual property. But somehow a strange showdown in South Beach has brought them all together for local photographer Hester Esquenazi.
Who knew taking pictures of the 1111 Lincoln Rd. parking garage, which has become one of the most photographed and oft-described structures in Miami, could cost you $7,500 and much more in potential legal bills?
Esquenazi's trouble began in 2006, when she realized she liked taking pictures of concrete. The artist talks about concrete as if it were straight out of some sappy romance, recalling sitting in traffic, losing herself in cracks rippling across a highway overpass.
In 2010, she found herself in the 1111 garage, lost and confused. This is when things got a little weird. The concrete, oh, the concrete. It was everywhere.
"I'd love to live in a parking garage," Esquenazi says. "I would put my couch and a 30-foot dining table, and that's it. Yes, I love the parking garage. So I took many, many, many pictures of it."
Under some sort of concrete trance, she later began drinking. "I printed some of the photos and took some of my snapshots. Then I went to a gallery, and I was pretty drunk... I showed [the gallery owner, Oscar Ascanio] my iPhone and, like that, I got a show."
It's called "Concrete Perspective," and it's on display at O. Ascanio Gallery in Wynwood — work we called "impeccably executed" in an October 11 review — though she declines to specify how much she sells her work for. But here was the rub: Selling her photos violates the parking garage's intellectual property rights, at least according to the structure's managing firm, UIA Management.
Its director, Mary Jessica Woodrum — who declined numerous interview requests — dispatched a "license agreement" to Esquenazi saying she had to either pay the parking garage's owner $7,500 or stop selling her art.
Now, this raises an interesting, existential idea. Can something as perfunctory as a parking garage be unique enough to warrant designation as intellectual property? Let's be serious: This ain't the Taj Mahal. It's a place to park your Volvo. (Though, admittedly, a very nice place to do so — the award-winning Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron designed the garage.)
Local trademark attorney John Cyril Malloy thinks copyrighting a parking garage is a stretch. "This sounds a bit tenuous," he says.
Still, UIA Management's lawyer, Eleanor Yost — who didn't return Riptide's phone calls — threatened a lawsuit against Esquenazi if she didn't take down "Concrete Perspective."
Esquenazi, who says she might not have the money to hire lawyers, is frantic. "They're just bullying," she says. "This is a power struggle."