Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Larry Gagosian & Richard Prince face millions in damages on 6 May in NY

"Millionaire Nurse" by Richard Prince

It´s really not a blurred image you ´mined;´ it´s simply not yours, Richard.

On 6 May in a Manhattan court, Larry Gagosian, age 61, and his misappropriating high-earner artist, Richard Prince, age 62,  face (through their lawyers) a lengthy hearing on how much they owe infringed-upon photographer and author Patrick Cariou.

On 18 March, after three year´s of litigation, New York federal district judge Deborah A. Batts ruled that Prince and Gagosian in bad faith ripped off Cariou, violating U.S. copyright laws.

Cariou´s images first appeared in his 2000 book, Yes, Rasta.

A third defendant, Rizzoli Publications, was found jointly responsible with artist and gallerist for damages which could run into tens of millions of hard currency.

Leaving a trail of conflict with a pot of gold

Ripping off other people´s work and then applying the soft edges of transformational image law with a little acrylic paint here and there, and with a swish of a magic brush, has earned Prince and Gagosian millions of dollars.

(Gallery gets 60 percent, Prince, the balance.)
It has also cost Tate Modern a fair amount of spare change.

At Tate in October 2009, Prince put up a show, including his doctored image of 10-year-old nude Brooke Shields.

One of the doctor Cariou images Prince renamed his "Canal Zone Series"

Tate Modern probably lost close to $500,000 on its exuberance to push the boundaries of Prince´s appropriateness and entitled sense of redefined ownership.

´Fair Use´ versus rip-off (copyright infringement)

In court, Prince argued his was “fair use” of Cariou´s images, and besides, Cariou´s  Rasta images, shot over six years in Jamaica, were mere “compilations of facts…arranged with minimum creativity,” unworthy of protection.

(What if I were to transform one of Prince´s transformations and keep on blurring the original? In an ironic turn of fate, would Prince sue me for infringing on his infringement?)

Judge Batts cleared the air. She ruled the new image must be “plainly different from the original purposes for which it was created.”  (Emphasis mine.)

The new, morphed image must also intend to comment and relate to historical context or critically refer to the original, raw art to satisfy the “fair use” exception in the law, defendants´ crucial legal crutch now collapsed.

In the Canal Zone series, Prince recast Cariou´s images for one purpose only: commercial sales, Judge Batts decided.

Prince & Gagosian open two current shows in Paris

This didn´t stop Prince and Gagosian from staging two concurrent shows in Paris, opening 29 March, each running through 26 June.

At the Gagosian Paris gallery: “Richard Prince: de Kooning;” the other, “Richard Prince: American Prayer,” about hippies and punks, at the Bibliothéque Nationale de France, the latter more a potpourri of Prince´s huge collection of acquired ephemera.

I wanted to know how the Gagosian Paris sales were going, given the furor over Prince´s misappropriated cache of Cariou´s art.

The Gagosian Paris gallery did not answer its phone during normal business hours. I tried three times.
These and others of Richard Prince´s inventory of Canal Zone images must be trashed.
Nor did the Gagosian gallery´s designated Paris media person answer the phone (two calls) or respond to my e-mailed queries about how the 18 March court order has affected (if at all) Prince´s sales, and also, if the pair intend appealing once the New York federal district court enters a final judgment (one that includes all damages, costs, legal fees, interest).

Lawyers must be writing Prince´s artist´s statements

Here´s the textual wrapping Prince, Gagosian, their lawyers and PR machine put on Prince´s work:

Prince pays homage to one of Prince´s idols, Willem de Kooning; (after describing detailed changes to original images) “…to the original figures that further blur the distinction between de Kooning´s imagery and Prince´s own.¨

The more blurring the better for Prince and his patron.

This is Prince´s artist´s statement for the stolen Canal Zone images:

 “Mining images from mass media, advertising and entertainment since the late seventies, Prince has redefined the concepts of authorship, ownership, and aura.”

So, that´s what we call it now?

“Refining concepts of ownership” by painting in a little aura here and there...mine(d) to refine, says Prince.

Another phrase Gagosian uses online for the Paris show: “Prince´s de Kooning´ series is a process of interaction with the canonic imagery of the Abstract Expressionist idol Willem de Kooning.”

An iconic transported, transformed image redefined as Richard Prince´s

Do you understand this? (Really, if you can translate this, please help me; comment below.)

Adulation, idolatry, reworking and ripping off 

Caveat emptor—if Prince starts calling you his idol, get the best intellectual property lawyer money can buy and dig in or get ready to reap millions you never envisioned from an artful demand letter to lawyers for Prince, Gagosian, others.

But you might have to stand in line.

Jeff Koons stands ahead of you with his misappropriation lawsuit against these image morphers.

Arguably, Prince´s and Gagosian´s vulture-like behavior, bullying their way into the high end contemporary art market in seven  and eight figures, Patrick Cariou, as current court victor, stands to reap a harvest of millions more than he ever dreamed from “Yea, Rasta” royalties.

Judge Batts decided Gagosian and Prince unfairly (and in bad faith) damaged Cariou´s potential market for the latter´s work.

One Chelsea, New York gallery cancelled a planned Cariou show of “Yes, Rasta” images because Prince had beaten the image´s originator to the market with his Canal Zone misappropriations.

Is it time to start sharing the spoils?

Billionaire Gagosian, the art world´s Mr. Big, doesn´t like losing and in this case, paying off Cariou would be prudent and profitable.

The final bill to Gagosian and Prince: +/- $25 million

Let´s crunch some numbers, then we´ll look at the black cloud that might hang over most of Prince´s (mis)appropriations.

Court documents show Gagosian´s sales of Prince´s Canal Zone re-authored Cariou images total about $10.5 million U.S., income from the 41 usurped photographs.

Seven more Canal Zone paintings were swapped for art worth an estimated $6 – 8 million.

With interest, legal fees and costs and possibly a separate trial on the issue of punitive damages, if allowed, the bottom line could conservatively boost to a final bill close to $25 million (without punitive damages).

That´s not all.

On top of this, Judge Batts demanded defendants destroy not only all remaining Prince Canal Zone paintings but everything connected with the raw Cariou´s images, including all digital data.

What´s that worth to the defendants?

It´s the long term that should prompt Gagosian and Prince to have a neatly wrapped settlement package in hand for Judge Batts on 6 May.

Black cloud of litigation hangs over Prince´s works

The most compelling reason: The 18 March order goes to the heart of the Prince´s transformative art market under attack and puts a huge cloud over value and credibility of dodgy art and all players in the chain of title.

Judge Batts ordered all sold Canal Zone works shall not be displayed, worthless on the secondary market, contraband.

The other choice Prince and Gagosian have is appealing and fighting the long battle in the murky and ever morphing area of transformative art law and copyright protection.

Is it better to fight one battle at a time or possibly make bad law that blemishes two careers and may cost artist and gallery huge financial losses?
"Sonic Youth Nurse," Richard Prince
Gagosian should capitalize on the bad news and promote new partnerships with blurred image owners rather than spend millions on lawyers and be distracted from making more money elsewhere.

The dark shadow of ongoing litigation isn´t something these two defendants want or need.
Gagosian stages 60 shows annually for his stable of artists, pays 150 employees to handle his affairs worldwide.

He needs Prince´s earnings. Convert bad PR into huge profits, done every day in the western world.

I doubt Gagosian and Prince would seriously hesitate sharing the spoils of (mis)appropriated works with Cariou rather than watching such controversial inventory go to waste.

Patrick Cariou´s "Yes, Rasta" images as modified by Prince

Settlement would also be confidential with a gag order attached. Prince, Gagosian and Rizzoli would admit no liability.

Life goes on.

Sharing might be something Prince and Gagosian should seriously consider in the future, since no doubt arts litigators are busy analyzing Prince´s other appropriations, searching for potential clients, with teams of art students turned paralegals.

At least Prince and Gagosian are among their own kind: Predators.

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™

Check out a sculpture or mosaics workshop or walking tour in our beautiful mountains. See: and
Contact me at or by calling (34) 951 067 703; from the UK at BT landline rates, 0844 774 8349.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Stephen, found it through your linked in post.