Jeff Koons Loses Plagiarism Lawsuit—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.
01 A French court ruled against Jeff Koons in a copyright infringement lawsuit, concluding that his sculpture Naked copied a French photographer’s work.
(via The Guardian)
The court ruled that Koons’s Naked (1988), a porcelain work depicting two nude children standing atop a heart sprinkled with flowers, plagiarized a black-and-white photograph by the late Jean-François Bauret. Bauret’s work, titled Enfants, was taken in 1970 and turned into a postcard five years later. The photographer’s widow saw the Koons sculpture and noticed the similarities, alerting both Koons and the Centre Pompidou ahead of his 2014 exhibition at the Paris museum. She received no response and sued both Koons and the Pompidou, which never exhibited the work after it was damaged in transit. On Thursday, the court ruled that, while Koons deviated somewhat from the original image, the changes “do not prevent one from recognising and identifying the models and the pose.” As a result, Koon’s company Jeff Koons LLC and the Centre Pompidou, which included the work in the exhibition catalogue, will have to pay €40,000 to the photographer’s family, roughly half of which will go towards legal fees. Koons’s company will have to pay an additional €4,000 for posting an image of the sculpture on the artist’s website.
02 In an indication of a strengthening art market, London auction totals over the last two weeks of sales are up 61.3% from 2016.
That figure comes from two weeks of evening sales across Impressionist, Surrealist, Modern, post-war, and contemporary art at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips, and Bonhams. Together they brought in £573.2 million, up from the £351.4 million achieved in 2016. This week’s sales of primarily contemporary work also saw solid returns. Overall, Sotheby’s made £118 million with fees, against an upper estimate of £112.6 million. This represents a 70% increase from last year’s sale. Fifteen of the 61 lots on offer were guaranteed either by Sotheby’s or by a third party. Sales of those works made up 46.6% of the evening’s value, or £55 million. Last year just four lots were guaranteed, with a combined low value of £3.8 million. Christie’s was more sparing with its guarantees in its contemporary sale, which made a total of £96.4 million with fees (the estimate ranged from £67.6 million to £101.6 million)—up 65% from last year’s total. Guarantees represented £14.6 million or 21.6% of the overall value of the sale, compared with £15 million or just under 30% in February 2016. Phillips guaranteed four out of 30 lots in its March 8th sale, down from 11 in 2016. Phillips made £14.7 million with fees against an estimate of £13.3–£19.2 million.
03 Howard Hodgkin, a highly admired post-war British painter, died on Thursday at the age of 84.
(via the New York Times)
Known for his deep, emotional, and richly hued semi-abstract paintings, Hodgkin rocketed to fame after his appearance at the British pavilion in the 1984 Venice Biennale. The artist won the Turner Prize a year later and was knighted in 1992. Although he was considered one of the most important contemporary painters in Britain, Hodgkin told the New York Times in 1990 that “I never expected anyone to be interested in my pictures, and there were years when I couldn’t even get my friends to look at them.” Born in London in 1932, Hodkin dreamed of being an artist since the age of five and grew up attending a series of prestigious schools and art institutions. In the late 1960s, Hodgkin began producing strongly geometric work, before moving on to create images that hover between the abstract and the representational. “I am a representational painter but not a painter of appearances,” he said to the critic David Sylvester in 1976. Towards the end of his life, the artist said the prospect of death had imbued him with something of an artistic drive. “I don’t care a damn about what happens when I’m dead, but I do have a sense of increased urgency,” he told The Guardian in 2001. “And I think it’s made me more courageous.”
04 Iraqi troops stumbled upon ancient Assyrian artifacts in a labyrinth of escape tunnels dug by ISIS.
(via The Guardian)
The stone carvings were uncovered last week beneath the streets of war-torn Mosul. According to Iraqi and English archaeologists, these reliefs appear to date back to the 5th or 6th century B.C. and feature inscriptions carved by Assyrian rulers. Sebastien Rey, the lead archaeologist at the British Museum’s Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Programme, said these reliefs differ significantly from the traditional Assyrian hunting and banqueting scenes in the museum’s collection. “So far we have only seen poor quality photographs—but they are extremely exciting,” Rey said. He described the carvings as “unique” and noted that “they have features which we have not seen anywhere else.” This discovery is a rare positive development amidst ISIS’s path of destruction. According to deputy Iraqi culture minister Qais Rashid, the terrorist organization has leveled no fewer than 66 archeological sites in the Mosul region alone. Ironically, Iraqi troops discovered the artifacts beneath a site where a 12th-century mosque, said to contain the prophet Jonah’s remains, stood until it was demolished by ISIS in 2014.
05 The TEFAF Report’s new methodology has cut the art market’s value by a third.
When it comes to industry reports, methodology can make all the difference. In her first year as the author of the TEFAF Global Art Market Report, Rachel Pownall single-handedly sliced off a third of the value of the global art market. Pownall’s new methodology reduced the market to $45 billion in 2016 from a previously estimated $63.8 billion in 2015. However, when her methodology is applied to 2015, the market actually grew by 1.7% in 2016. Another major finding of the report is that private transactions through dealers now account for 62.5% of global sales, a 20% increase over 2015. The previous report estimated the art market was about half private sales and half sales at auction. Pownall, TEFAF Chair in Art Markets at Maastricht University, arrived at her estimate using a new methodology based on official data from government statistics offices and the United Nations, auction data from Artnet, sales data from the Orbis registry of private businesses, and survey responses from roughly 350 dealers (that figure comes from the 5% response rate she received after sending out 7,000 surveys). She received data on private sales at auction houses directly from the auction houses. She said she hoped the new methodology could be used as the starting point for a discussion, “not ‘this is right’ or ‘this is wrong.’”
06 Fernando Donis has sued Dubai after the city allegedly stole the architect’s design.
(via the New York Times)
Mexican-born Donis bested 900 other entrants in a 2008 competition to design the building with his “Dubai Frame”—two towers connected at the top by an observation deck to resemble a monumental, literal frame for the city view. But, according to a lawsuit Donis filed last December, he was neither compensated for his ideas nor included in the project’s realization. Although the original competition rules stated he would keep his copyright, Donis was repeatedly pressured by city officials to surrender it to the municipality. When he continued to refuse, the architect was cut out of the project. His suit seeks unspecified compensation for damages. Donis’s experience is not unique—in Dubai, foreign professionals often struggle with the reality that personal relationships carry more weight than the letter of the law. And the gleaming surfaces of tourist attractions like the Frame erase the labor of migrant workers, who flock to the United Arab Emirates by the millions and are often subjected to employment terms resembling indentured servitude.
07 Attendants at the Louvre went on strike Thursday, protesting the museum’s botched handling of huge crowds during the first week of its Vermeer exhibition.
(via the New York Times)
Since opening on Feb. 22nd, “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting” has attracted some 9,400 visitors—double the museum’s projected attendance. As the exhibition can only accommodate 250 people at any given time, some visitors have been subjected to hours-long waits. Even after imposing a timed ticketing system, the small rooms showcasing 12 of the artist’s works continue to jam up the flow of visitors through the exhibition. To protest what they see as poor planning and signage on the part of the museum, 70 to 80 members of the museum workers union went on a day-long strike Thursday. Since that figure represents only 2% of the Louvre’s workforce, the museum hired temporary workers to fill empty slots and has continued to operate as normal. This swell of attendance to the Louvre follows a decrease in visitor numbers between 2015 and 2016 of 1.3 million—a trend attributed to terror attacks in France.
08 A judge ordered art advisor Lisa Jacobs to pay back $1 million in profits from the sale of a Basquiat work.
(via the New York Law Journal)
Justice Charles Ramos found that Jacobs illicitly profited from the 2011 sale of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Future Sciences Versus the Man (1983). The original owner of the work, Michael Schulhof, asked Jacobs to find a buyer offering no less than $6 million. Schulhof agreed to pay her $50,000 and stipulated that she not accept additional funds from the buyer. According to the complaint, Jacobs found a buyer at $6.5 million, but told Schulhof they would only pay $5.5 million. Schulhof sold the piece at that price and Jacobs pocketed the difference. When Schulhof found out a year later, he sued Jacobs, who claimed she had entered into a different agreement with Schulhof’s mother that allowed her to take a “buyer’s premium.” Judge Ramos’s ruling against Jacobs, which she plans to appeal, leaves the art advisor on the hook for $1 million in “secret profits.” This case offers an example of how, as Laura Gilbert noted for Artsy in 2015, both “buyers and sellers would do well to contract with their art advisors to disclose all documents related to a transaction” in a market notorious for its opacity.
09 A Jewish family has partnered with the German Lost Art Foundation to locate some 4,000 Nazi-looted artworks.
(via the New York Times)
The descendants of German newspaper publisher Rudolf Mosse are receiving new support in their quest to recover Mosse’s sizeable art collection. The German-Jewish Mosse fled to France in 1933 as the Nazis rose to power, leaving behind thousands of artworks that were seized by the new regime—including important Egyptian artifacts, Benin sculptures, and 20th-century paintings. Mosse’s heirs began a formal effort to find the works in 2012 through the Mosse Art Restitution Project. But their search has recently been bolstered by funding from the German Lost Art Foundation, an organization established by the national government in 2015 to locate cultural property confiscated by the Nazis. To locate the missing artworks, university researchers will reference correspondence between Mosse and art dealers, auction catalogs from the 1920s and ’30s, and the archives of a Nazi-era art dealer. While some works from the collection, like a marble Egyptian sarcophagus and a drawing by Adolph Menzel, have been recovered, there is still significant work to be done. Of the 4,000 missing artworks, only about 1,000 have been identified by name. Of those, only a handful have actually been located.
10 A Qatari arts patron announced plans to open an institute of Islamic and Arab art in New York.
(via The Art Newspaper)
Just shortly before the release of President Trump’s revised executive order now barring citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering U.S., the New York-based Qatari national Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani formalized plans for a 2,500 square-meter space dedicated to art of the Arab world, to be located in downtown New York. With intentions to engage and educate the community on Arab culture, Al-Thani incorporated the forthcoming institute as a nonprofit last April. “It made absolute sense to build an institute that would not only showcase the breadth of art and culture from the Arab and Islamic worlds, but also challenge certain stereotypes and misconceptions that hinder cross-cultural understanding,” Al-Thani told The Art Newspaper. In addition to quarterly exhibitions, the institute will produce publications and host a residency program. It follows multiple proposals for an Arab cultural institute in the city’s Financial District over the past decade, including the abandoned proposal for the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”
Cover image via Wikimedia Commons.