Judge Rules Against Richard Prince in Copyright Case

junkyardarts March 22, 2011 Comments Off on Judge Rules Against Richard Prince in Copyright Case

richard prince patrick cariou exhibitAnother day, another copyright case.

This time, it involves Richard Prince, an artist whose life work has resolved around the appropriation of other artist’s work and iconic media imagery, and the artist Patrick Cariou who took a stand for his work.

Though I would argue, the more important aspect of this story is not who stole who’s work: it’s the fact that the work resulting in the supposed theft is played out, uninventive, disappointing and flat out boring.

Let’s discuss! – pics may not be safe for work –

Here’s the deal.  Richard Prince is a Contemporary artist who has made a career on re-imagining the American story through collage made up of classic imagery, original paintings and appropriated images from other artists.  Sometimes his work conveys a completely new story through the sourced works, comments on societal perversions (or lack thereof) and the illusion of the American Dream.  This time, in the case of his Canal Zone series, he did almost nothing to alter his sourced images, made nary a commentary and basically gave his sourced images the Perez Hilton treatment.

Tossing some jizz stains and googly eyes on a photograph does not make it new art – it makes it the scribblings of a 15yr old  sexually frustrated boy in the back of math class.  While some claim this pathetic attempt at social commentary is enough to constitute Fair Use, Federal Judge Deborah A. Batts of Manhattan isn’t buying it, and neither am I.

Fair Use,  while complicated and often stretched by lawyers to help protect their artist client’s (which they should), the jist of it is this: the new work that uses a sourced image must in some way comment on, relate to the historical context of, or critically refer back to the original work it borrows from.  Other considerations, and one that generally takes precedent in the courtroom, is whether or not the new work creates a harmful environment for which the original is meant to profit in – meaning the new image cannot prevent or harm the original’s ability to make money.  The reason this is important is because, really, courts have no interest in debating what is art and what is not (nor do we want them doing that) and deciding whether or not works can make money based on environment is a lot easier to argue and debate and gives a clear opportunity for resolution in a case.

gagosian gallery richard prince

Prince’s work in Canal Zone used the photographs of Patrick Cariou, whose collection Yes, Rasta featured portraits of people in Jamaica during a trip there.  Portraits that were going to be exhibited…until the gallery learned of the Gagosian Gallery’s showing of Princes Canal Zone…which used 41 images from the Yes, Rasta collection.  Now, Prince, being one of the most famous Contemporary artists alive, is going to draw crowds to any exhibition he puts on and it is obvious that this particular series hindered Cariou’s work to be exhibited.  Not to mention he just completely ripped off the work.

Patrick Cariou, Yes Rats, 2000 richard prince

I mean, come-thefuck-on, Prince. You didn’t even bother trying this time around did you?  You just said “well fuck it. I’m Richard Prince. I can take the Mona Lisa, shit on her face, and some d-bag will buy it from me!”.  It worked for Perez Hilton, Prince.  And I am embarrassed for you, truly.

What commentary is here?  Rastafarians play guitar?  The dude with the dreads looks like he should be a guitar hero?  You put jizz in his mouth, wrote slut on his shirt, and called it a day.

richard prince canal zone picasso

The Gagosian says “Aside from their “storyboard” looks and their ability to absorb information based on Prince’s original “pitch,” what is evidently new in these paintings is the way they are, literally, “put together,” like provisional magazine lay-outs. Some images, scanned from originals, are printed directly onto the base canvas; others are “dragged on,” using a primitive collage technique”…ORLY?


A primitive technique called “Elmer’s glue on paper”.  Further demonstrating the 5th grade aspect of this collection.  Hey, I’m not bashing collage work at all – many times it can be powerful, evocative, have depth and textural elements that actually mean something.  This one is meant to evoke thoughts of Picasso’s Desmoiselle’s D’Avignon through color, voyeurism and subject matter.  And it kind of works…I mean, I can see it.  It just isn’t really interesting.  Not to mention it lacks in any sort of real reference to Picasso’s work and his intention (which is long and arduous and I won’t go into here).

Overall, Canal Zone reeks of first year college student and indie artist doing art shows in his favorite basement dive bar and then complaining that no one sees his work.  Slapping politicians heads on porno shots, or blacking out the eyes of some nude models – it’s all been done before and with more pizazz and less pretention. Frankly, the whole ‘sex sells’ and ‘showing titties will totes get me laid because I’m so edgy’ is pretty played out.  And obnoxious.

In the end, Prince says this in his defense:  “he had no interest in the original meaning of the photographs he used, Judge Batts wrote. In creating the “Canal Zone” works he mainly used the imagery as a way to make references to painters like Picasso and Willem de Kooning and to connect the works to a postapocalyptic screenplay he was planning that featured a reggae band.”

Oh. Right. It was for your screenplay.  Got it.  Hey, you and James Cameron should get together!  You both have a knack for taking stuff better though up by other people and ruining it for your own financial gain.

In the end, Judge Bett’s ruled that Prince violated Mr. Cariou’s copyrights. “She ordered all unsold copies of the “Canal Zone” paintings and other related works to be impounded and ordered that the gallery inform anyone who already owned copies of the works that it would be a violation of copyright laws to display them. She also ordered the parties to return to court in May to discuss possible damages”.

Shit news for Prince, good news for Cariou, in a decision that was probably well argued on both ends of the courtroom.  In the end this decision upholds the rights on artists everywhere who may find themselves being taken advantage of by artists of notoriety.  Prince found out on Friday that this judge is tougher than a gram of unobtanium!  Also: that he should probably stop stealing other artist’s work.

New York Times / Gagosian Gallery /


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