You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Vermont Law and Graduate School can permanently cover a pair of controversial murals depicting slavery without infringing upon the artist’s rights.

Samuel Kerson painted the two 24-foot-long murals—which show scenes of a slave market and of Vermonters helping people escape on the Underground Railroad, among other things—on a wall at the law school in 1993.

For years, students complained that the colorful images contained racist caricatures. Finally in 2020, after George Floyd’s murder by police, the institution decided to cover the murals with panels to hide them from public view.

Kerson sued the law school, alleging that obscuring his work behind a permanent barrier violated his rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which is designed “to prevent the modification and, in certain instances, destruction of works of visual art,” according to the decision.

The two sides presented their arguments in January; on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favor of Vermont Law and Graduate School, determining that VARA cannot be invoked in this case because “merely ensconcing a work of art behind a barrier neither modifies nor destroys the work.”