UPDATE 4/14/06: The best part of the story is Simon Doonan had never seen the Jack Piersons before. Here's his riposte to the art world: How Did I Become The Typhoid Mary Of the Art World?, The NYObserver. Also excerpted at artsoldier.
Here's a story that's made the blog rounds lately, about a commercial window dresser (Simon Doonan) who appropriated an idea from a well-known artist (Jack Pierson) for his design of Barneys' current windows. It's certainly not a first, in fact there's a "tradition" of going both ways with this kind of appropriation, "borrowing", "rip-off" or what ever you wish to call it: consider Helmut Lang windows vis-a-vis Dan Flavin, or just pick any Fifth Avenue store and play a game of "which artist is that knocked off from?". Consider the influence of various moments and movements on advertising in general. Consider Barbara Kruger, or and ask yourself where she borrowed her own ideas from. Hell. if culture is a stew and it's about mixing, sharing, and exchange, then it's also got to be about knock-offs. "Remix is how we live," remember? So since when is it okay for artists to appropriate from advertising but not ok for designers to appropriate from artists? Some bloggers are calling the Barneys knock-offs crass, but I think these bloggers doth protest too much.
Anyway, Jack Pierson has undoubtedly been knocked off by designers before, (by other artists too), but not in so high-profile a NYC spot. Honestly, bottom line? these knock-offs don't hurt him or his market, they can only enhance it, and Cheim & Reid is just having a fit of "Intellectual Property Anxiety." Also, consider that Simon Doonan makes it his business to make knock-offs, that it's part of his "branding" and he's known for it. We should all be so lucky as to have him knock off our ideas for his windows. (Hey, uh, Simon, come on over...) Remember that you can't copyright an idea, only the expression of that idea, and that is the basic tenet of copyright law that, at least in theory, allows us all to experiment and be creative, no matter how noble or crass or transformative or derivative we are...
UPDATE 3/29/06: Here's a smart summation by Tom Moody, who quips that it's "a bit like Duchamp writing an indignant letter to a urinal manufacturer."
via edward_ winkleman, Tuesday, March 28, 2006:
Tyler and Barry have both been all over this, but I still wanted to flesh out some of the details on the Barneys vs. Jack Pierson scrap (which is really playing itself out in public as Barneys vs. Cheim & Read, but...[image to right, Jack Pierson, Fame, 2005, Plastic, metal, wood, and neon, 160" x 45" x 4" vertical install, image from Cheim and Read website]). As fate would have it, the day before the gallery's letter hit the blogosphere, I had walked by Barney's Co-op store in Soho and caught a glimpse of the fake Piersons there. My first thought, being the naive country bumpkin I am, was "Wow, Barneys has quite an impressive art budget to be able to afford such big Piersons for their boutique...and rare ones at that...I've never seen those before."
A few feet later it did dawn on me (yes, I'm slow like that) that the text was too obvious to be a real Pierson and that the store had likely appropriated the vocabulary in an attempt to lure in art savvy types...or that they just liked the aesthetic.
Now if you haven't seen it, the gist of Pierson's gallery's complaint is as follows:
Around a year or so ago, imitations or forgeries of [Pierson's] works began to appear in Barney’s clothing stores throughout the country saying such things as "fabulous, courageous, and outrageous." They are formally weak plagiarized versions of Jack Pierson’s work and we want you to know that they are not by Jack Pierson. Many people have assumed they are. They are, in fact, made by Simon Doonan, the chief window dresser at Barney’s. Jack Pierson has asked that he remove them but he has refused.
We regret this lack of integrity on the part of Simon Doonan and Barney’s. They obviously have no respect for artists or the art world. [emphasis edward_ winkleman's]
And I fully agree with C&R's assessment of the pieces...they stretch out too far and, again, the text is lame...they're lazy knock-offs designed to appeal to folks who know just enough to be flattered that their sophisticated tastes are being catered to (er, yes, I was temporarily fooled...make of that what you will).
Now there's an argument to be made that indeed Barneys is showing a lack of respect for the art world here (i.e., who else would assume the text was "art"?), but what really intrigues me about this episode is the assertion that a visual vocabulary of appropriated lettering is now owned by the artist who assembled it. [emphahsis newgrist's]
Obviously, I immediately recognized the text as Pierson-esque, so in that sense, Jack does own it. But the argument C&R makes (while I viscerally agree) does seem as if it might fall apart in court. When an artist appropriates other vocabularies, images, styles, etc., at what point can he/she claim that new mix as his/her own? When the art world recongizes it as theirs or when the general public recognizes it as theirs or never? [emphahsis newgrist's]
Consider this an open thread.
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