Jeff Koons Must Die!!!

Of course computers and computer games have had an impact on art. There are fields that study art and video games, or indeed even art in games, but I was particularly amused by this twist to the theme. It’s art in the form of an old style arcade video game. The game is created by Hunter Jonakin and is called Jeff Koons Must Die!!!

The game is a first-person shooter and the goal is to destroy as much of Koons’ artwork as possible. If the player does not destroy the game ends.

However, if one or more pieces are destroyed, an animated model of Jeff Koons walks out and chastises the viewer for annihilating his art. He then sends guards to kill the player. If the player survives this round then he or she is afforded the ability to enter a room where waves of curators, lawyers, assistants, and guards spawn until the player is dead.

The motivation for the game is given on the website:

Jeff Koons is one of the most polarizing and well known contemporary artists living today. He attempts to elevate the banal by constructing large metal sculptures that resemble balloon animals, oil paintings that contain subject matter derived from digital collage, and large-scale pornographic photographs featuring the artist and his former wife, to name a few. All of Koons’s art is constructed by assistants. In general, viewers love or hate Koons and his work, and that is why he was chosen as the subject matter for this piece.

Recently Jeff Koons – who has himself been sued for copyright violation – sued for copyright violation (see Koons strikes back) but eventually backed off. It’s going to be interesting to see his reaction both to seeing his works replicated in digital format, used (abused?) in this manner and then the fact that he himself is portrayed in the game.

Koons ends dog dispute

Not long ago I wrote about the rather strange case of Jeff Koons balloon dogs. Koons has built much of his artistic reputation around the creative reuse of other peoples copyrighted work. So it was rather surprising to find him initiated a copyright violation case. The case is obviously strange because Koons’ work is basically a hard copy of the traditional balloon dog made by any clown with a long balloon.

Koons’ lawyers have now backed off and decided not to go forward under the condition that the objects were not sold as “Koons’ dog” – which they were not doing even prior to receiving the legal letter. Park Life writes:

Bloggers largely scoffed at the threat, but Park Life decided not to just sit around and see if Mr. Koons would sue. On January 20, its lawyer, Jedediah Wakefield of Fenwick and West, working pro bono, sued Jeff Koons LLC in San Francisco federal court, asking the court to declare that Park Life wasn’t infringing on Mr. Koons’s i rights. “They very quickly indicated they weren’t interested in putting up a fight,” Mr. Wakefield said of Mr. Koons’s lawyers. Ultimately, Jeff Koons LLC agreed not to pursue the gallery for the sale of the bookends, and the gallery agreed not to indicate that the bookends were by Mr. Koons, which, Mr. Wakefield added, “they hadn’t done and weren’t going to do anyway.” As a result of the deal, he said, he was planning to file on Thursday for a dismissal of the declaratory judgment suit.

Koons stikes back

A couple of days ago I mentioned the Jeff Koons lawsuits in a post on the problem of copyright in appropriation art. Usually people are angry with Jeff Koons for using and abusing their work in his creative process. Interestingly now it’s Koons who is attempting to use copyright to stop other people using his art.

Art and Artifice write

just before Christmas Koons decided to take the initiative… His lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to Park Life a San Francisco shop for selling balloon dog book ends.

Besides the confusing fact that Koons is now the infringed the case is stranger by the fact that the shop is not the manufacturer or sole reseller of the product. Artinfo writes

The bookends, in fact, are manufactured by Toronto-based imm Living. They retail for $30, and are supposedly available in some 700 stores in the United States, according to an article on the dust-up in the Bay Citizen. The Park Life representative said that the original cease-and-desist letter demanded that the store hand over all remaining balloon dog merchandise to representatives of the artist.

Finally lets not forget what we are talking about: copies of balloon dogs…

New York Trip: Jeff Koons on the roof show by luccawithcheese

image: New York Trip: Jeff Koons on the roof show by luccawithcheese (CC BY NC SA)

is this then also copyright infringement?

Lawyers vs Artists: Who defines copyright?

In texts there is a right to quote. In music there is not. In art – its complicated. One of the reasons is that text has always been easy to quote, music sampling has been discussed commercially for a long time but art has been slower. But what about now? With our digital toys the ability to create mashups and remixes is not in the realm of a limited number. How should copyright react to image quotes?

Artists have traditionally quoted themes and compositions. This copying has filled many roles: it has been part of the process of learning the craft, a homage to inspirational artists and a way to further a discussion by referring to, and re-interpreting, the past.

A recent exhibition at Tate Britain aimed to show that Turner quoted widely from the past. Michelangelo’s quoting of Laocoön in parts of the Sistine Chapel have even led to a theory that he in fact sculpted the work.

Pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol regularly quoted from popular culture. But this time copyright law had begun to react and the process of quoting in art was being brought before the courts. Warhol settled out of court after appropriating an image from the photographer Patricia Caulfield in his work Four Foot Flowers but his famous soup is generally seen as non-infringing.

When Jeff Koons took a photo and created the sculpture String of Puppies the photographer successfully sued for copyright infringement (Rogers v. Koons). But in 2006 Koons won a case were he quoted from the photographer Andrea Blanch in his work Niagara. The court found that he had sufficiently transformed the original so as to be considered fair use. For an interesting discussion on an important subsection of quoting: the appropriation of traditional/indigenous art read Rimmers Four Stories About Copyright Law and Appropriation Art.

How should quoting be understood?

From an artistic (or non-Copyright) perspective the issues of plagiarism and exclusivity seem to be more central to the artists. The general perspective seems to be that artists view copyright limitations to quoting as a free speech issue but there are no artistic licenses to use copyrighted images (beyond fair use). Landes makes the argument that – from a transaction cost perspective – the law should take into account the number of copies involved.

In contrast, when the appropriation artist makes many copies, he should be treated no differently from a firm that incorporates licensed images in products such as calendars, coffee mugs and beach towels.

Overexposure of a work can lead to loss of value. Wayne Hemingway writes in Just Above the Mantlepiece that mass-production is the enemy of art and supports his argument by giving the example of Tretchikoff:

Within two years of the paintings being reproduced in print form, Tretchikoff became relegated to lowbrow status. In fact, Tretchikoff’s decision to reproduce his prints . . . transformed the relationship between artist and purchaser to one between artist and a hundred-thousand purchasers.

Unfortunately attempting to discuss this from the point of view of number of copies does not really work in digital environments where 200 000 views of a YouTube clip is not a large number. There is an additional problem as much of the remixed works are free – or at least not sold by the creator.

Are artists the problem?

Another interesting problem is attempting to define “the artist”. Its easy enough to say that Jeff Koons is an artist. But is the creator of an image mashup an artist? And nomatter if you answer yes or no to that question: Will the creator of a mashup be seen as a artist in the future? How important is it really that copyright is there to help promote the production of works? And should limitations really be viewed as threats to culture and free speech?