untangling the awkward relationship between art and money

Copyright or wrong?


On the left: Claudio Capotondi, ‘Sferosnodo’, 1983. On the right: copy of ‘Sferosnodo’ outside Kunshan station, China. Image via The Art Newspaper (www.theartnewspaper.com)

I’m sure I’ve used that headline before. Actually, I know I have. But it’s too good to resist. Besides which – it was two years ago, and more of a subheading than a headline.

Anyway, another to add to my ongoing file of copyright/authorship conundrums… (a couple more linked here and here).

According to The Art Newspaper (TAN), Italian artist Claudio Capotondi has made inroads into the Chinese art world. A version of the work he produced in 1978, Sferosnodo, was selected for permanent display at the front of a station in the city of Kunshan, China.

The only catch? Capotondi had nothing to do with the creation of the sculpture on display in China. It is much larger than the artist’s own work, which he first made in bronze in 1978, and again in marble in  1983. He also had no idea the gargantuan version was being made.

But now here’s the mind-bending thing. Think about ‘authorship’ and what you think it means in the context of fine art. Well, Capotondi is now campaigning to have the new version attributed to him. Although I had a look, and it appears that his website is now offline, according to TAN, Capotondi lists the sculpture as his own on his site. He has also said that he admires the work. “There are excellent craftsmen over there. It is a complex structure and the copy is much bigger than my original.”

So according to this, blatant plagiarism can result in a work of art for which an artist can claim authorship, even if he or she had no idea it was being made, far less any involvement with its creation.

OK. So, does that mean that Gucci is going to claim authorship for the dodgy knock-off handbags sold in the streets? Unlikely, because they wouldn’t want to acknowledge such shoddy craftsmanship. Not to mention, their trade relies on the premise of ‘exclusivity’. Does that mean artists will claim authorship of a stolen design only if the object produced measures up to their exacting standards? And does that mean that if I were to whip up a completely excellent Damian Hirst, that he would claim authorship, and I’d be in possession of an original Damian Hirst, rather than a derivative Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios? Of course, there are laws in Australia and internationally that would make the latter scenario more complicated. But I’m talking theoretically.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

4 Responses to “Copyright or wrong?”

  1. redearthbluesky

    Picasso copied cubism off Braque, the composition for paintings like Las Meninas off Diego Velázquez’s version and visualised ancient Greek myths to create his minotaur series. His work was derivative but unique nevertheless, as is this sculpture. It is derivative of Capotondi but is not his work.

    I’d say it would have be polite for artists to acknowledge their sources, as academics do, but just as an academic who has been referenced can’t claim ownership of the referencing paper, neither can Captondi.

  2. Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios

    It is a fascinating question. Mental gymnastics galore.

    How about this one…Takashi Murakami made a textile design for Vuitton. Vuitton used that fabric to make bags, and sold them as ‘Louis Vuitton Murakami’ bags. Offcuts from the same fabric were trimmed, framed, and sold as original Murakamis in the Murakami store at his exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA. So those were all acknowledged as ‘signature’ pieces.

    But what if one of the workers in the factory that made the bags nicked some of the offcuts (this latter bit is a theoretical proposition only) – apparently not an uncommon occurrence in workshops where high-fashion accessories are made – and he or she framed the offcuts. Would they also be considered ‘originals’?

    It’s just as interesting to see what artists choose to exclude from their bodies of work, as it is to see what they claim as their own.

  3. redearthbluesky

    Indeed mental gymnastics, but I think so much of the confusion comes from the fact that people are buying the artist’s name rather than an appreciation for the image. I once read that Tracey Emin once lost a cat or dog and put up posters and some people souvenired the posters as Emin’s work. Emin said it was her work but not her artistic work, so what is Emin’s art?

    In another example, I once heard about a photographer that took photos of other people’s photos. In some ways it was a bit of a copy of Warhol’s approach to appropriation.

    Just the other day I was reading about a collector of a photographer who sued a photographer to stop him making more copies of a photo. He had sold the originals as limited edition but at a later date, he just made more copies in different sizes.

    Takeshi Murakami is an interesting one on multiple levels. I was reading that he gets assistants to make a lot of his work but unlike many other artists that use assistants, he acknowledges his assistants. If I remember correctly, he sometimes gets his assistants to write their name on the back of paintings. I personally thought that was a nice thing to do.

    Anyway, the common idea behind everything is that the art itself is of secondary value to the name much like the style of a t-shirt is of secondary value to the brand on the t-shirt.

  4. Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios

    Sherrie Levine is the most renowned photographer of other people’s photographs. And it’s not at all uncommon for photographers – or printmakers, for that matter – to reissue the same image as a different edition, but with a distinct number, or a colour change. Not to mention a different date. Max Dupain’s ‘Sunbaker’ is a case in point… here’s a link to the Art Gallery of NSW’s copy of the iconic photo: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/115.1976/ As you can see, the photo was taken in 1937, but printed in the 1970s. And after Rodin donated all his work to the French state, the Musee Rodin has used the artist’s casts to produce editions of his work, long after his death. The list is never ending.

    But, as you so rightly point out – it’s all in the name, darling. The name. One big branding exercise.


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