No stranger to a little controversy, US pop artist Jeff Koons has got himself in a some hot water this week. The artist, whose work regularly sells well into the millions (his work Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for $54 million, the highest price for a living artists work sold at auction) is being sued by New York based photographer Mitchell Gray for the use of one of his images in Koons’ 1986 painting I Could Go For Something Gordon’s, without permission or compensation, according to the law suit filed on Monday.
In the complaint filed in Manhattan Federal court, Gray states Koons’ reproduction of his photograph was “nearly unchanged and in its entirety”. The photograph features a sun-kissed man sitting on the beach, wistfully admiring the woman next to him, who is painting gracefully at an easel.
The photograph was originally reproduced in a Gordon’s Gin advert earlier in 1986, and though it has been widely exhibited as part of Koons’ series Luxury and Degradation (a series focusing primarily on a number of paintings of reproductions of liquor advertisements) including at last year’s Koons retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art; Gray claims not to have known about Koons’ replica of the advertisement until now.
On the Whitney’s site Koons says about the series Luxury and Degradation: “I never wanted real luxury, instead, I wanted proletarian luxury, something visually intoxicating, disorienting.” And obviously something very true to life.
According to the lawsuit, Gray is seeking unspecified damages and any profits the defendants received from the suspected infringement. He said he also deserved punitive damages because the infringement was willful. Koons “knew, or should have known, that he was required to obtain an artist’s permission before he could lawfully copy a work by that artist,” the lawsuit said.
In cases such as these, there is a three year statute of limitations on copyright actions – meaning the plaintiff, in this case Gray, had three years to act upon the infringement. Fortunately for him, as his lawyer, Jordan Fletcher, said in an interview “the clock doesn’t start ticking until the plaintiff learns of the infringement,” and Gray reportedly only discovered Koons’ work in July this year.
Koons may be unfazed by the lawsuit, as he has had four other works the subject of legal action in the recent past, including Fait d’Hiver (1988); a sculpture that a French adman, Franck Davidovici, discovered was based on his own photograph for an advertisement for clothing brand Naf Naf, when he saw the work in December of last year.
Koons was also sued in 1992, 1993, and 2006. He won the lawsuit in 2006, which was over a photograph Koons appropriated, originally by Andrea Blach, for his 2000 painting Niagara.