Photo: Patrick McMullan via New York Observer.
Before we get into the latest and apparently never-ending brouhaha surrounding the appropriated art of Richard Prince, let’s get up to speed with the goings on from the past few months:
Firstly; an update on one of the cases from our last trip down Prince’s proverbial rabbit hole—the lawsuit filed by Los Angeles-based photographer Donald Graham. Graham filed a copyright infringement suit against Prince, Larry Gagosian, and the Gagosian Gallery in the Manhattan Federal Court last December regarding the unauthorised usage of Graham’s photograph Rastafarian Smoking a Joint. In February of this year, Richard Prince and Larry Gagosian filed to dismiss that lawsuit. The motion is still pending.
Excerpt from complaint filed by Dennis Morris against Richard Prince, via theartnewspaper.com.
Just this past June, Prince and the Gagosian Gallery were again sued for copyright infringement; this time by photographer Dennis Morris. Morris’ case centres on the wrongful usage of a photograph of his featuring Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. The image also appears on the cover of David Dalton’s book El Sid, Saint Vicious. Prince copied the picture without Morris’ consent and according to the suit: “engaged in acts of affirmative and widespread self-promotion of the copies directed to the public at large by distributing said copies, falsely representing that the Subject Image was their own.” In other words, it is Morris’ belief that Prince took credit for his portrait of Sid Vicious and knowingly perpetrated the impression that the image was, in fact, his (Prince’s) own.
Also cited in Morris’ filing is the issue of Prince’s distributing of the photograph “on the internet”. The picture was featured standalone in one of Prince’s infamous Instagram postings as well as in a picture of a work which contained the Sid Vicious image alongside others of Prince (the singer), Barbra Streisand, and Sylvester Stallone. The lawsuit further alleges that Richard Prince and Gagosian Gallery had “obtained direct and indirect profits” from their usage of the Sid Vicious image, and Morris, therefore, believes that he is entitled to “disgorgement of each Defendant’s profits directly and indirectly.” The case is due to be transferred to New York Federal Court presently.
Days after the filing by Dennis Morris, Prince was revealed to have parted company with the Gagosian Gallery. All very cloak and dagger at the time, whispers from anonymous sources told artnet News that Prince—who joined Gagosian in 2005—and the powerhouse gallery had apparently been in disagreement over issues regarding representation. Prince was reported to have been signed exclusively to Gagosian Gallery, but that apparent exclusivity had lost some of its sheen after the artist took on and participated in numerous shows with other venues.
September 2016 ’Trippy’ issue of ‘High Times’ Magazine. Image: High Times Magazine.
Speaking of other venues; in August, Prince revealed he was collaborating with High Times magazine on a work due for his exhibition at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles. Prince loaned the magazine a collection of drawing works from his late ’90s-early ’00’s series Hippie Drawings, which were to be used in a special edition of the magazine in September. The drawings, which are actually original works by Prince, apparently “recall children’s drawings of paintings by the mentally ill”. Typical of the controversy-courting Prince, also featured in the so-called Trippy issue of the magazine were rolling papers designed by the artist complete with “a marijuana strain”.
Meanwhile, away from the High Times celebrations, Gagosian Gallery was being footed with a whopping $4.28 million (USD) New York State tax bill. According to NY State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Gagosian Gallery had neglected to pay sales tax on a huge number of transactions conducted by the gallery between 2005 and 2015. Gagosian settled the gargantuan bill and agreed to pay back taxes, interest, and penalty fees on top of the standing amount owning—but don’t feel too badly for them. According to reports from the AP, Schneiderman estimates the gallery makes about a billion per annum in sales. So four and a quarter million is basically loose change.
Bringing the tally of running lawsuits keeping the Gagosian Gallery and Prince (or their lawyers, rather) busy to three, is a lawsuit filed by a Los Angeles makeup artist claiming copyright violation on a self(ie)-portrait posted to her Instagram account. Mynxii White, also known as Ashley Salazar, is suing over the alleged infringement regarding a two-year-old image featuring herself and some superimposed characters of her feline companions. Prince appropriated the image by reissuing the picture in an edition of his New Portraits series, complete with the addition of his now-notorious prattling comments.
The initial lawsuit by Salazar was filed in the US District Court of the Central District of California in June, but by August Prince had filed to dismiss the case in an effort to have it heard in the Southern District of New York. Both sides agreed to the transfer, and the case is due to be filed and heard in the New York Federal Court.
And so all of that leads us here—or, rather, to last week, when yet another lawsuit for copyright infringement was filed against Prince. That’s five in total, now. Four in progress (Patrick Cariou’s complicated case features in saga part one). Celebrity Photographer Eric McNatt is the new complainant, and his case refers to Prince’s unauthorised usage of a portrait McNatt took of former Sonic Youth frontwoman Kim Gordon.
The photograph was taken to accompany an interview with Gordon printed in Paper magazine. According to McNatt’s filing, the day after the interview featuring the photo was published, Prince reposted a minutely modified version of the portrait to his Instagram account where it was accompanied by three captions authored by Prince. Furthermore, McNatt alleges that the image, complete with comments, was blown up and printed for display at Blum & Poe gallery’s Tokyo space in 2015. A version of the ‘work’ was then offered for sale on the website Oculua. And if that’s not enough, McNatt also points out that the image was included in a book featuring Prince’s ‘Instagram Portraits’ offered by Prince and Blum & Poe.
Untitled (portrait), 2014
Inkjet on canvas
65 3/4 x 48 3/4 inches
What it all comes down to, ultimately, is that no one has any real clue about what constitutes ‘fair use’ in this new internet age of social media and the like. Every-bloody-body is confused about it, lawmakers and defenders included, and it means that cases like these are going to keep cropping up.
The sad thing about all of this is that Richard Prince doesn’t seem to give a crap. He’s a wealthy man who feeds on notoriety—he can afford to pay his lawyers three different ways to Sunday, and it’s never going to hurt his bottom line. He loves the attention—it’s free publicity that fits perfectly into his renegade image and feeds his inflated sense of self-worth. The only people suffering are the artists from whom he ‘borrows’ and drowns out. But what is there to do? Five lawsuits and counting, and it seems like nothing can stop Richard Prince: The Professional Appropriator.