One of the things I found so fascinating about the Cariou v. Prince case is the language. The juxtaposition of the ambiguities and subjectivities of art, the calculated omissions of the art market, and the adversarial formalism and ritual of the legal context.
That comes to a head in Prince’s deposition transcript, which is this kind of amazing text and performance in one. People objecting to things, people repeating or parsing questions, spelling out names with the consciousness that the purpose is to put something on a record–the record–for later use.
And out of it all, art history inevitably or inadvertently emerges, and a window opens onto something–I was going to type reality, but that’s probably naive. It’s information, information pulled and distorted by the constraints and confrontations of the deposition process. Which fits the form of the genre, the medium.
The deposition transcript Gallerist posted yesterday from Larry Gagosian, in the suit over the Cowles Lichtenstsein is another example, just a great read. Unlike Prince, and unlike Gagosian’s Cariou deposition, it’s a real pageturner, combative, tense, a bit suspenseful, maybe with some setups that you think are corny, but yet, in the deposition setting, they still end up working. And even some twists at the end. [My only real complaint: I hate scribd. Just hate it. It’s as much a reason for doing a book in the first place, because I hate using scribd so much.]
Anyway, point is, while reading through the hilarious transcript of a preliminary scheduling hearing in the contract/infringement/revenge/divorce case of Burch v. Burch, the chatty judge, Chancellor Leo Strine, wrapped up with an insight on depositions that is a piece of poetry itself:
THE COURT: Okay. Then don’t — then don’t worry. What I’m saying is it could be — if you can all get the depositions done in 62.3 hours on each side, you should.
But a hundred hours is just an artificial thing.
I also don’t know — for example, depositions are often longer than they should be, not
because the person is taking a long time asking questions, because somebody says “Objection.”
Mr. Abrams knows that the real reasons why the board did this were blank and blank and blank. And it’s distracting the witness from the fact that they’re blank and blank and blank, and the witness’ inability to answer for himself blank and blank and blank and blank has now been corrected by me, indicating that the real reasons he did what he did is blank and blank. I mean, I’ve seen plenty — everybody in Chancery has seen plenty of transcripts — and you’ve been at those depositions — where, frankly, it’s much more from the obstreperous defense side than there is from the asking side.
In fact, during his deposition, Gagosian actually stops his lawyer, the estimable Hollis Gonerka Bart, a couple of times to ask, “What does that mean, by the way? Can I ask you what that means when you say ‘Objection to form’?”
I can tell you that by the end of the live staging of Canal Zone Richard Prince Yes Rasta this summer, “Objection to form” meant everyone took a drink. To the obstreperous defense.