WSJ Left Hand, Meet WSJ Right Hand

Apparently, Wall Street Journal editors don’t read their own paper.

Last week the Journal ran an op-ed piece about ripoff artist Richard Prince getting busted for appropriating other people’s work (specifically “[the] book ‘Yes, Rasta,’ by French photographer Patrick Cariou, who had spent six years taking pictures of Rastafarians in Jamaica.”)

When Appropriation Masquerades as Reconceptualized Art

Richard Prince has long reveled in his pose as a postmodern pilferer of other people’s images—in being what’s known as an “appropriation artist.” Most famously, in 1980 he began taking pictures of Marlboro Man magazine advertisements—rephotographing them—stripped of logos and text. And now his sticky-fingered status has been officially confirmed by U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, who slammed him this week for not just appropriating, but misappropriating, dozens of works from another artist. The ruling has the art world’s appropriators reeling—one blogger called the ruling “kafkaesque”—as the rarefied, anything-goes realm of conceptual art runs up against the hard-nosed realities of intellectual-property rights.

Also reeling: Ubergallerist Larry Gagosian, whose 11 international galleries produce $1 billion in yearly sales representing 77 artists, Richard Prince among them.

The Gagosian Gallery made millions selling Mr. Prince’s Cariou-derived series, and the court is treating them as if they were from the sale of stolen goods. The gallery and its owner “were aware that Prince is an habitual user of other artists’ copyrighted work, without permission.” And yet they continued “their commercial exploitation of the Paintings after receiving Cariou’s cease-and-desist notice.” The judge ruled that the Gagosian defendants had acted in bad faith, and that doesn’t exactly bode well for them when it comes to the question of damages.

Which will likely be north of $20 million, according to the Journal piece.

Cut to yesterday’s Life & Culture front-page fawnathon:

The Gagosian Effect

How the powerful art dealer uses his global network of galleries and blue-chip clients to fetch ever higher prices for his artists. Can it last?

Over Oscar weekend in late February, art dealer Larry Gagosian held a private lunch at the $15.5 million home he recently bought in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles. His glass-enclosed house had been decorated for the occasion by the artist Richard Prince, so its walls were lined with his portraits of beach beauties and pulp-novel nurses.

As guests including financier Ron Perelman and actress Renée Zellweger navigated the home’s skylit hallways, Mr. Gagosian and his staff mingled with guests, discreetly passing a rolled-up sheet of paper between them like a baton. The sheet listed prices for nearly every artwork in sight.

With an unrelenting focus on selling, Mr. Gagosian, 65, has become the most powerful art dealer in the world. He represents the estates and careers of 77 of the world’s top artists, including Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Cy Twombly, Richard Serra, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Ed Ruscha. Dealers who track how he prices his gallery shows estimate he sells upwards of $1 billion worth of art a year. Sotheby’s, by comparison, auctioned off $870 million worth of contemporary art last year.

Swell. But here’s all the piece says about the Prince of Pilfering dustup:

Last week he and the gallery lost a copyright lawsuit involving works from [Prince’s] 2008 series, “Canal Zone.” Mr. Gagosian said that he and the artist have filed a joint appeal.

Granted, refunding $20 million from a billion dollars in sales is the equivalent of a rounding error, but in light of the starstruck nature of the Journal feature, the omission seems a bit, well, starstruck.

Anyway, reading between the Journal lines, look for Gagosian to get struck by even more adversity in the coming year.

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