Prince of Pilfering

I’ve never had a positive response to ‘appropriation art’. It’s always seemed to me parasitic rather than in any way symbiotic. A total lack of respect of the authorship of the work being appropriated combined with a false assertion of authorship by the appropriator.

Of course it’s OK to use work by other people, though if you do so in a direct and recognisable way you should clearly attribute this – and where appropriate pay for a licence for its use. I was quite happy recently when an artist wanted to use some of my pictures on some cushions she was making – and supplied her with files for the purpose. We came to an agreement and my contribution to the work is acknowledge; that’s how it should be, and others who have wanted to use my work in their own paintings and illustrations have made similar agreements over the years.

As for ‘appropriation‘ I think what has to say about it and about Prince’s ‘Instagram’ works is worth reading. Here’s just a couple of sentences from it:

Seen as most people access art today, in their social media feeds, Prince’s appropriations are visually indistinguishable from the original sources. The thing that separates them is celebrity and recognition within the contemporary art world/business framework.

One way that Prince went wrong was to pick as one of his steals from Instagram a work by photographer Donald Graham.  Obviously a very succesful and accomplished photographer (if not particularly to my taste), on his ‘Fine Art’ web site it tells us: “Donald Graham is an internationally recognized photographer with work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the International Center of Photography.”

While your average Instagram user might be flattered that Prince would re-use one of their images, someone who is already showing work in a museum context it likely to see it just as a rip-off. Unsurprisingly, as you can read in Hyperallergic‘s Photographer Sends Cease and Desist Letters to Richard Prince and Gagosian, Graham’s response is to go to law.

As the article states, Graham’s picture had been uploaded to Instagram not by the photographer himself, but by a third party,  Jay Kirton, who uploaded it without accreditation (and presumably without permission.) I presume that neither Prince nor his gallery, Gagosian bothered to check – by Google Image Search or other software – on the copyright status and ownership of the image. It appeared Hyperallergic‘s review of the show last October with the name of the poster rather than the photographer “appropriated from @rastajay92.

As I’ve pointed out before, (for example in it just isn’t practicable to prevent the unauthorised use of images on the web. It would take up the whole of any photographer’s life to police the usage of their images, and in most cases prove impossible to acheive any recompense. But where anyone is making large sums of money from your work, things are different.

Graham in October posted to Instagram about it (as you can read on Hyperallergic), and I imagine he may also have contacted the gallery without any satisfaction, but now his lawyer has sent “cease and desist” letters to Prince and the Gagosian Gallery. Perhaps it will go to court.

It isn’t the first time Prince has been taken to court, (and not even the first about images of Rastas) and although in at least one previous case an out of court settlement was finally reached with a photographer, generally Prince has been treated with inappropriate leniency by the courts. If there are people ignorant enough to pay over $40,000 for very large but rather dull reproductions from Instagram, the photographers who produced the original works on which Prince imprinted his own lack of originality deserve at least as much as him from them.

One Response to “Prince of Pilfering”

  1. […] in February I wrote Prince of Pilfering about the selling by Richard Prince and his gallery of large-scale reproductions of Instagram […]

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