AO News Summary – Richard Prince and Gagosian lose copyright lawsuit against Patrick Cariou regarding “Canal Zone” paintings

Prince - Inquisition - Canal Zone - Gagosian
Prince, Richard. Inquisition (2008). Via Gagosian Gallery

On Friday in Manhattan, federal Judge Deborah A. Batts ruled against Richard Prince, Gagosian Gallery and Rizzoli Books on behalf of French photographer Patrick Cariou. The case regarded allegations of Richard Prince’s copyright infringement and unlawful image appropriation of 41 Cariou photographs for commercial gain, as used in Prince’s “Canal Zone” exhibition at the West 24th Street Gagosian in 2008. As a result of the ruling, all unsold works from “Canal Zone” are being impounded, and anyone currently in possession of one of 22 paintings will be notified of the legal violation.

Prince - Blue Cowboys - Gagosian
Prince, Richard. The Blue Cowboys (1999). Via Gagosian Gallery

more stories and images after the jump…Richard Prince has been known for his adaptive appropriation throughout his long-running career.  A noteworthy recurring theme that incorporates rephotography is the “Cowboys,” rephotographed images of Marlborough cigarette advertisements, which has long been valued on fiscal and artistic levels.  A longtime Gagosian artist, Prince’s titled “Canal Zone,” references his place of birth, the Panama Canal Zone. Paintings from “Canal Zone” reportedly sold through the gallery for as much as six to eight million dollars.

Prince - Spiritual America - Tate
Prince, Richard. Spiritual America (1985). Via The Guardian

Prince’s rephotography has not always been so well received, however.  In 1983, Prince adopted a photograph of 10 year old, nude Brook Shields into his series, Spiritual America, named after an Alfred Stieglitz photograph. The child’s portrait was set to be exhibited in September 2009 at the Tate Modern in London, but was withdrawn when Scotland Yard warned that the work violated obscenity laws. It was replaced by a photograph of the adult Brooke Shields, also used in the series.

Steiglitz - Spiritual America - SF Moma
Stieglitz, Alfred. Spiritual America (1922). Via SF Moma

On a theoretical level, Prince’s work derives from the aesthetic reattribution and metacognitive legacy of 20th century greats like Andy Warhol, whose photograph reproductions question the validity of the singular image. Prince testified in court that “Canal Zone” referred to the works of Picasso and Willem de Kooning, the latter of whom inspired Prince’s upcoming exhibition at Gagosian on March 30th. The reference to form and reformat is further aesthetically evidenced in the subjects of humanity and media for all three artists, as well as the visibly jagged effects of conceptual portraiture.

Prince - de Koonig - Gagosian
Prince, Richard. Untitled (de Koonig) (2005). Via Gagosian Gallery

“Canal Zone” based the images off Patrick Cariou’s 2000 photography book, “Yes, Rasta,” where Cariou captured his time in Jamaica.  Richard Prince’s studio requested copies of Cariou’s book without sharing the intentions, or negotiating limitations with the photographer. Once Richard Prince’s images had circulated, Cariou’s Manhattan gallery show was canceled on grounds that it would restate and capitalize on Prince’s notoriety.

Cariou - Yes Rasta - Richard Prince
Cariou, Patrick. Image from Yes Rasta (2000). Via Patrick Cariou

Richard Prince also testified that he was not concerned with the original meaning of Cariou’s work for “Canal Zone,” instead shaping his own artistic significance. Although the photographs were not taken by Richard Prince, the artistic significance was characteristic of his work rather than Cariou’s. Nevertheless, the divergent artistic significance is separate from the permission issue, which has officially been upheld in legal terms. This is certainly not Prince’s first controversial publicity, and may serve to contradict the ruling by further promoting the originality of his work overall.

-A. Bregman

Related Links
AO on Site: Richard Prince’s Canal Zone, Gagosian Gallery, Saturday, November 8th, Chelsea, New York [ArtObserved]
Judge Rules Against Richard Prince in Copyright Case [The New York Times]
Richard Prince: Slippery Slope [artnet]
Richard Prince [Gagosian Gallery]
Patrick Cariou wins copyright case against Richard Prince and Gagosian [The Art Newspaper]
Tate Modern Removes Naked Brook Shields Picture after Police Visit [The Guardian]
Brooke Shields Photograph: Tate Modern Caves In [The Guardian]
Richard Prince Loses Fair Use Argument []

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