By Kristine Pregot
Last month, I had the pleasure of checking out a very compelling panel at SXSW, led by Mary Crosse of Derby Content: Creative Thievery = What’s Yours is Mine?
It was a packed house, and I heard many people mention that this was their absolute favorite panel at SXSW, so it seemed like a good idea to continue the conversation.
How did you conceptualize this panel?
I had seen Richard Prince’s Instagram exhibit last year, and it caused a heated debate about what is art and who owns what outside of the typical art world. I felt it would be interesting to bring a debate about fine art into discussion with professionals in film, interactive and music attending SXSW. These appropriation discussions are so relevant to what we do everyday in the more commercial arts world.
Tell me about the panelists?
I had top panelists participate, including Sergio Munoz Sarmiento, a fine arts lawyer; Hrag Vartanien the co-founder/editor-in-chief of Hyperallergic, a fine arts blogazine; and Jonathan Rosen, an appropriation artist and ex-advertising creative and commercial director. This trio gave us really unique and informed insights into all aspects of the examples I showed.
The first subject you talked about was Richard Prince taking a photograph of the famous Marlboro Man ad and selling this photo for a lot of money.
This is a pretty famous case in the art world. Richard Prince has made his career off of appropriating others’ work in the extreme. The panel had a mixed reaction to this, although by a near unanimous vote of hands, the crowd was much harsher and felt that what Richard Prince did was morally wrong.
What are your thoughts about Richard Prince?
I personally find the work to be an interesting statement on art, meaning and intent in a piece and on ownership. The fact that it has created so much dialogue about what is fine art over the years makes him relevant. I think many people don’t want to give him that much credit, and perhaps I shouldn’t. However, I think he’s made his art in the act of stealing itself, and if you look at this statement that he’s made with his work in that way, then it’s easier to see it as art.
I thought that Mike Tyson’s tattoo artist and his lawsuit to Warner Bros. for the use of this artwork in the film, The Hangover II, was very interesting subject matter. Can you break this case down a little bit?
The tattoo artist who designed Mike Tyson’s face tattoo sued Warner Bros. for a copyright infringement in Hangover II. In the film, Stu (Ed Helms) wakes up after a crazy night of partying in a Bangkok hotel with a replica of Mike Tyson’s face tattoo. The tattoo artist designed it specifically for Mike Tyson and claimed it was a copyrighted work that Warner Bros. had no right to put in the film or on any promotional materials for the film.
The lawsuit nearly affected the release of the film, and there was a possibility that if the two parties couldn’t come to an agreement, the face tattoo would have to be digitally removed for the home video release. In the end, Warner Bros. settled the claim for an undisclosed amount.
This case does open up an interesting discussion about an individual not even owning the design tattooed to their body without a legal document from the tattoo artist saying as much. And creates the need for filmmakers and advertisers to clear one more element in our work.
What surprised you the most about the panel? Did the audience’s morally correct “vote” surprise you?
We decided that after we discussed what was acceptable in the art world and what was legally right, we’d ask the audience what they felt was morally right. The audience, nearly unanimously, voted together on all examples shown, and very differently from how the art world felt things were acceptable and how the court ruled.
Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.