Words that are rarely combined in common nomenclature: parking garage, art, and intellectual property. But somehow a strange showdown on South Beach has brought them all together for local photographer, Hester Esquenazi.
Who knew taking pictures of the 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage, which has become one of the most-photographed and oft-described structures in Miami, could cost you $7,500 and potential legal bills of much more?
It all started in 2006, when Esquenazi realized she liked taking pictures of concrete. She talks about concrete as if it were straight out of some sappy romance, recalling times she sat in traffic losing herself in cracks rippling across a highway overpass.
Then years later, in 2010, she found herself in the 1111 parking 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 said. "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."
Lost in 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 -- and I said, 'Listen, I want to show you something.' I showed [the manager] from my iPhone, and, like that, I got a show."
It's called "Concrete Perspective," and Esquenazi today has a show at O. Ascanio Gallery, though she declined to specify how much she sells her work for. But here was the rub. This act of commerce, apparently, constitutes a violation of the parking garage's intellectual rights, said the structure's managing firm, UIA Management.
Its director, Mary Jessica Woodrum -- who's declined numerous interview requests -- dispatched a "license agreement" to Esquenazi, saying she had to either pay them $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 Majal. It's a place to park your Volvo.
Local trademark attorney John Cyril Malloy thinks copyrighting a parking garage is a stretch. "This sounds a bit tenuous."
Still, UIA Management's lawyer, Eleanor Yost -- who didn't return our phone calls -- threatened a lawsuit against Esquenazi if she didn't take down "Concrete Perspective."
Enquenazi, who says she may not have the money to hire lawyers, is frantic. "They're just bullying," she said. "This is a power struggle."