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Labeoufs in Space
January 9, 2014 1:43 PM   Subscribe

The sale of Glenn Brown's "Ornamental Despair (Painting For Ian Curtis) Copied from the Stars Like Dust, 1986 by Chris Foss" (1994) for roughly $5.7 million has again raised questions over whether copying something but larger and slapping your name on it constitutes art and how it can sell for so much. Here's why it does. Just don't talk about Shia LaBeouf.
posted by Artw (90 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Can comics be art dad? Only if it has big dots, son!"
posted by MartinWisse at 1:47 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]


shia labeouf plagiarised my boyish good looks, approachable charm and proximity to carey mulligan
posted by Quart at 1:52 PM on January 9


Well, at least he is upfront about who he copied it from.

I think the standard should be, is the new work transformative? I don't think this qualifies as transformative enough, and this is coming from someone who thought Shepard Fairey's Obama poster was sufficiently transformative to consitute a new work of art, even if the courts disagreed with me on that point.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:54 PM on January 9


Also, I love Chris Foss.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:54 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]


The TL;DR of Mellow's article (second link) is at least an interesting take on what is otherwise not a very interesting kerfuffle about an unimaginative person's work:

Glenn Brown’s ripped-off science-fiction cover is worth millions because we spend all day reblogging pictures of Firefly-My Little Pony mash-ups on Tumblr without giving a shit about the mash-up artist’s name (or even deeper, the names of the artists who designed the Firefly cast’s costumes or the My Little Pony characters in the first place).
posted by cribcage at 1:56 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Why can't we talk about Shia LaBoeuf? Because that shit is bananas
posted by obloquy at 1:57 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


Previous LaBeouf.
posted by Artw at 1:58 PM on January 9


I don't think this qualifies as transformative enough...

The SciAm article mentions that a big part of the 'transformative' in this specific case is the scale of the duplication, which according to Sotheby's is 79 1/8 by 118 1/8 in. At that size, I think there's some credit to be assigned to the artist of the "copy."

Now, whether it's worth $5.7M is a completely different story, and has little to do with the painting itself and more with who is collecting art these days and why they're purchasing certain works.
posted by griphus at 2:02 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Brown's artwork is such a blatant rip-off of the original work that I'm surprised people are buying this "transformation". It's not a statement, it's straightforward cribbing and definitely not worth $5.7 million. It's tantamount to me asking for a raise because I figured out the enlarge button on the photocopier.
posted by arcticseal at 2:02 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


I don't think this qualifies as transformative enough

Although the point about scale is real. I suspect there'd be a lot less nerd rage about this painting if the source image was either more obscure or had less "cool" cred. That is, a giant painting based on, say, a long-forgotten 1930s romance or based on a school textbook cover we'd probably say "yeah, fine, that's transformative." It's the fact that Foss created an imaginative world that many of us spent a long time living in as teens (so, in a way, we don't think of these images as being small-scale book covers but as life-size environments) that makes it feel "wrong."

It's also worth noting that in addition to blowing the thing up to huge proportions he's changed quite a lot of the coloring.
posted by yoink at 2:03 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]


Are horrendously garish colors a "thing" in paintings these days? Because yuck.
posted by Slothrup at 2:03 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


reblogging pictures of Firefly-My Little Pony mash-ups on Tumblr

Sometimes I have doubts about TeeFury's veil of justifyability.
posted by Artw at 2:03 PM on January 9


definitely not worth $5.7 million

That's a kinda meaningless question in the art market, though (and, really, in any market). Something is "worth" what people will pay for it. The buyer was only ripped off if s/he paid a price absurdly higher than some other buyer would have payed. And unless the auction was rigged, that's not the case here.
posted by yoink at 2:05 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


The TL;DR of Mellow's article (second link) is at least an interesting take on what is otherwise not a very interesting kerfuffle about an unimaginative person's work:

Yeah, but it's wrong. What Brown did wasn't remixed disparate elements of pop culture or making new, creative things out of other people's copyrights, but just straight up copy the painting.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:05 PM on January 9


Are horrendously garish colors a "thing" in paintings these days? Because yuck.

And you can't simultaneously say "he's just copying" AND "he's got all the colors wrong!"
posted by yoink at 2:05 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


And you can't simultaneously say "he's just copying" AND "he's got all the colors wrong!"

I don't have a strong feeling about the copying part; I just prefer the coloring of the original.
posted by Slothrup at 2:08 PM on January 9


The original paintings were made to be reproduced on mass-market paperbacks. Repainting the pictures with far greater detail at a much much larger size feels pretty transformative to me, especially when we're talking about paintings meant to show the grandness of space.
posted by incessant at 2:11 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]


Art is whatever you can get away with.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:15 PM on January 9 [7 favorites]


And you can't simultaneously say "he's just copying" AND "he's got all the colors wrong!"

He's just copying, and he's got all the colours wrong. Ideas are hard, and mixing paint is hard, and he's shit at both.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:16 PM on January 9 [11 favorites]


Sometimes I have doubts about TeeFury's veil of justifyability.

I've told you this like fifty times: if it's not in the Player's Handbook or the Dungeon Master's Guide your character can't have it. And paladins can't even equip the Veil of Justifiability.
posted by griphus at 2:16 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]


Shia Labeouf previouslier.
posted by ckape at 2:19 PM on January 9


Accused of plagiarism? Copyright infringement? Theft of intellectual property?

Just call it a "mashup" or a "remix" and you're fine.
posted by Ratio at 2:22 PM on January 9


Why can't we talk about Shia LaBoeuf?

because his face is terrible and i hate him
posted by elizardbits at 2:22 PM on January 9 [17 favorites]


On the plus side, I can now make a small, paperback sized rendition of Glenn Brown's "transformation", and sell it as an original artwork.
posted by happyroach at 2:23 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]


Art is whatever you can get away with.

Good artist copy, great artists steal.

(Pissy little bullies skywrite)
posted by Artw at 2:24 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]


He's just copying, and he got all the colours wrong. Ideas are hard, and mixing paint is hard, and he's shit at both.

Actually, he transforms the images in Photoshop before he paints them. So if you think he's "shit at mixing colors" you're complaining about his inability to produce a paint that matches the color of an image you've never seen.

But, really, you only need to go and look at his other works to see that suggesting that he's just an incompetent copyist is a silly criticism.
posted by yoink at 2:24 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Accused of plagiarism? Copyright infringement? Theft of intellectual property?
Just call it a "mashup" or a "remix" and you're fine.


Cory?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:27 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Also, at which scale does it go from "he copied it" to "he used it transformatively." If it's not ten feet, is it a hundred feet? A thousand?

And if scale doesn't matter, what about medium? The medium in which this work is done is not the same as the medium in which it was originally made unless "a painting" counts for an entire medium. The purpose? The technique? The two pieces were made for vastly different purposes and the techniques for one are different than the other.

It is the easiest thing in art criticism to look at a thing and just roll your eyes and say "NOPE NOT ART!" because it looks like another thing. But where you draw that line is pretty important, and any work that just made you examine it, especially one that so clearly identifies itself as a copy, has an artistic purpose. It's challenging you to do something, anything except dismiss it for being a thing that looks like another thing.
posted by griphus at 2:27 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


My theory: rich people have tons of money, a large appetite for novelty, and a need to show off to each other, but being a necessarily small social group, they don't produce much culture. So they will forever need to appropriate from low-brow, middle-brow, and pop culture. But you can't just go and stick a sci-fi book cover on your wall and expect it to impress your rich friends; they'll know you picked that up for fifty cents at the library book sale. No, you must pay millions for it, lest your friends think you can only afford $0.50.

Enter Glenn Brown, Roy Lichtenstein, and others. The function of these middlemen is to wildly inflate prices of culture for the high-end market. It is not necessary that they do original work, only that it be expensive. This way I, as a fabulously wealthy person, can communicate to my fabulously wealthy friends that I'm the kind of guy who can just drop 6 mil on a giant spaceship painting if I feel like it. They will be suitably impressed and run out to do the same, lest they be left behind.

There's a market for art that costs millions, and a market for art that costs tens. Brown has positioned himself as the insulation between the two. Nice work if you can get it.
posted by echo target at 2:28 PM on January 9 [10 favorites]


Accused of plagiarism? Copyright infringement? Theft of intellectual property?
Just call it a "mashup" or a "remix" and you're fine.


Brown asked Foss explicitly for permission to use the image (and others) and Foss gave it. Foss later claimed to have been "distracted" at the time, but that's pretty weak sauce.
posted by yoink at 2:29 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]


Right now I feel kinda sad that this is the generally sensible metafilter because the number of free market cultists that you can piss off by saying that the value of an artwork is also determined by the market is larger than one would aasume.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:29 PM on January 9


So they will forever need to appropriate from low-brow, middle-brow, and pop culture.

Most of Glenn Brown's works reappropriate "high culture" images--Rembrandt, Lucien Freud, Dali etc. etc. It's just the Sci Fi ones that get people in the blogosphere excited.
posted by yoink at 2:30 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Brown asked Foss explicitly for permission to use the image (and others) and Foss gave it.

Ah, well, fair game then.
posted by echo target at 2:31 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


There must be billions of dollars of potential value in this Tumblr.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:32 PM on January 9


By the way, a simple GIS on "Glenn Brown" will give you a better sense of his oeuvre than this one painting might suggest.
posted by yoink at 2:32 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


Seems like there's quite a power differential between Rembrandt, Freud, Dali, and these paid-by-the-cover pulp illustrators*. Also, all of the former are pretty dead.

*I don't actually know how their compensation works.
posted by Think_Long at 2:33 PM on January 9


...free market cultists that you can piss off by saying that the value of an artwork is also determined by the market...

Wait, what other yardstick is there to apply to the monetary value of a piece of art?
posted by griphus at 2:33 PM on January 9


Oh, and here's a pretty good representative collection of quite large reproductions of works by Glenn Brown. Again, you'll see that there's a lot more going on here than simple "copying."
posted by yoink at 2:36 PM on January 9


My theory: rich people have tons of money...

but how do they get lots of money? answer: primarily, by being really interested in money. the people I have known who own art worth, say, 6 figures were pretty intensely focused on the money aspect of the art world. It seemed a bit like high stakes gambling but with a different social cachet. it was never very clear to me how much their aesthetics extended beyond dollar signs. but, in a way, that's part of everything: eating a $40 hamburger is bound to feel differently from a $6 burger just because of the price.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:38 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


I think Mellow's final point is larger than just one painting, and it's an interesting one: that as a society, we are weird and fickle in choosing when to care about credit. No, most of us can't name a costume designer. There are iconic photos we all know well, but do we know who took them?

We decry plagiarism, but that's more about dishonesty than credit. We don't care about credit, or origin or provenance, as much as we sometimes pretend.
posted by cribcage at 2:39 PM on January 9


I am reminded of Richard Price's Untitled (Cowboy) which the Met describes as "a copy (the photograph) of a copy (the advertisement) of a myth (the cowboy)."
posted by vespabelle at 2:41 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]


My despair is more than just an ornament
posted by Artw at 2:47 PM on January 9


Oh, and here's a pretty good representative collection of quite large reproductions of works by Glenn Brown. Again, you'll see that there's a lot more going on here than simple "copying."

Interesting the texture work he does with those seems to be absent from Ornamental Despair. Which is a shame, it'd be quite fun if you could get up close and see all kinds of little greebles absent from Foss.
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


If I did a musical cover of another artist's songs (and I have), I'm required to pay licensing depending on my own sales. Typically I don't sell 1000 copies of anything, so licensing is cheap.

But if I made 7 million dollars on one of my cover songs, you bet the original artist would get some appreciable (if not large) amount, at the very least, a few percent.
posted by chimaera at 2:56 PM on January 9


You're putting me on, right, griphus? Because I can't even tell anymore. What today is sarcasm, anyway, my fellow mefites?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:57 PM on January 9


Brown asked Foss explicitly for permission to use the image (and others) and Foss gave it.

OK, I'm a little less irate now. I wonder if he got a cut of the proceeds?
posted by arcticseal at 2:57 PM on January 9


I'm going to copy Glenn Brown's painting and sign it 'Shia LaBeouf' because I'm an artistic genius
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:00 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Also, misreading this thread as opinions of Glenn Beck about art did not help my temper.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:06 PM on January 9


"I'm going to copy Glenn Brown's painting and sign it 'Shia LaBeouf' because I'm an artistic genius" - Benway
posted by Benway at 3:10 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]


It's also worth noting that in addition to blowing the thing up to huge proportions he's changed quite a lot of the coloring.

What are the proportions of the original work? He is copying it off a book cover, but presumably the original work on the book cover was not always book-cover-size. At least I assume not, I could be wrong there.
posted by Hoopo at 3:14 PM on January 9


(Pissy little bullies skywrite)

Fortunately, they aren't the only ones.
posted by figurant at 3:23 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


What are the proportions of the original work?


The originals listed on Foss' site range from the late 1960s forward and are generally between one and two feet on a side, like 18" x 20" or 21" x 23" or so.

doesn't answer 'proportions' if you meant 'aspect ratio' but should do if you meant 'size', I think.
posted by mwhybark at 3:30 PM on January 9


... and here's Foss' page devoted to his original illo, "The Stars like Dust". No measurements or media info given.
posted by mwhybark at 3:33 PM on January 9


Yeah blowing a painting up six times its size is distinctly different than copying it.
posted by griphus at 3:33 PM on January 9


That's true, though lipsynching a concert is also distinctly different than performing live too.
posted by Carillon at 3:35 PM on January 9


if you meant 'size'

I did, thanks. So Brown has blown it right up, like 5 times. That is a pretty big difference in scale I suppose.
posted by Hoopo at 3:36 PM on January 9


Here's a 2011 article on and interview with Foss by Sumit Paul-Choudry of New Scientist.
posted by mwhybark at 3:42 PM on January 9


It's challenging you to do something...

The problem with that as a defense is that it can be applied to literally anything you don't like. Is "challenging" the viewer enough to make it art? If I use feces to scrawl a racial or sexist slur on corrugated cardboard, it's offensive crap. If Brown does it, it's art. But it's not because one is "challenging" and the other isn't, or that one forces you to confront something that the other doesn't.

It's because "art" is what the art establishment says is art, and Brown is an insider in that establishment.

So, if Brown copies someone else's painting, it's art. If I do, it's copyright-infringing plagiarism. That's fine, and if people want to pay $5M fore a blown up, oversaturated copy just because it's popular with that establishment, I'm not going to complain about seeing that fool parted from their money. But don't expect me to pretend it's somehow objectively about the work's merit.
posted by tyllwin at 3:43 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


Yeah blowing a painting up six times its size is distinctly different than copying it.

Personally I don't see a tremendous difference there, but I suppose I'm not the one that gets to make that call. I have copied a number of paintings/illustrations myself on different scales, or in a different medium or context, as an exercise and/or to decorate the apartment. I've never really thought to sell or exhibit them or claim any right to do so. (Not that I think I could really sell them, mind you). That said, I do sort of feel obligated to say it's a copy if anyone is admiring it, because I'd feel guilty not to. It doesn't feel right to me to take credit for anything beyond the fact I actually did a half-decent job, but I'm pretty sure my personal feelings about this practice are inconsequential to the legality or morality of what Brown is doing.
posted by Hoopo at 3:48 PM on January 9


Yeah blowing a painting up six times its size is distinctly different than copying it

I bet if I shrunk Brown's version down to normal poster size, cropped it to ordinary poster dimensions, changed the medium to cheap ink on cardboard, changed the presentation to a cheap plastic poster frame, and started selling them, Brown's lawyers would quickly tell me it was an illegal "copy."
posted by tyllwin at 3:54 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


If looking at a cool book cover, thinking, "Wow, imagine if you could see this blown up huge, the size of an entire wall" and then actually going and painting it so it would look good at that scale rather than just like a grainy enlarged image -- if that isn't art, then it's something just as awesome as art.
posted by straight at 4:00 PM on January 9


The size of an entire van.
posted by Artw at 4:02 PM on January 9 [9 favorites]


(ouch) ok, maybe awesome is the wrong word
posted by straight at 4:04 PM on January 9


Vans are reserved for the work of Frank Frazetta.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:06 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]


If looking at a cool book cover, thinking, "Wow, imagine if you could see this blown up huge, the size of an entire wall" and then actually going and painting it so it would look good at that scale rather than just like a grainy enlarged image

Sure, if it was just a book cover. The original 2'x2'-ish oil painting that was used on the book cover might look perfectly fine blown up a few times.
posted by Hoopo at 4:06 PM on January 9


Why can't we talk about Shia LaBoeuf?

Because nobody has said "Where's the beef?"
posted by srboisvert at 4:07 PM on January 9


(ouch) ok, maybe awesome is the wrong word

An awesome unicorn and/or wizard!
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


I'm not necessarily peeved by the idea of someone taking someone else's work and doing this to it, although I have a big emotional attachment to Chris Foss' work and I hope he does well out of this in some way.

I am upset by a system that deems this acceptable, and also extracts substantial proportions of revenue from musicians for subconsciously copying a riff in works that are really very different from the 'original' in a metric tonne of ways more.

This is not the first time that intellectual property mores have upset me. It will not be the last.
posted by Devonian at 4:14 PM on January 9


I just discovered (or rediscovered) that Chris Foss illustrated The Joy Of Sex.

Mind blown.
posted by Mezentian at 4:16 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Note: it was a resale, so neither artist made any money here. It was originally painted in 94, (20 years ago, something like this was a lot more complicated) and last sold in 2002 for £332,900, I didn't see how much it sold for in the 90s.

So maybe some of the outrage is misplaced?
posted by aspo at 4:22 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]


Since we're talking about La Beouf, what's the difference between Kenneth Goldsmith, well respected mashup poet, and Q. R. Markham, widely, openly reviled spy novel mashup writer?
posted by pmv at 5:03 PM on January 9


The value of a large painting can't be determined by looking at a small reproduction of it on the internet. A lot of these works are much more impressive in person.
posted by subdee at 5:08 PM on January 9


The 5.7 million pricetag is still ridiculous, but that comes down to rich art investors having ridiculously too much money, not to whether the painting has artistic merit.
posted by subdee at 5:09 PM on January 9


pmv: when you pick up a Goldsmith book, the forward tells you what you are holding is a copy, and it tells you what the original was
posted by idiopath at 5:11 PM on January 9


I find it pretty hard to get outraged about one artist taking another artist's work and, with permission, repainting it in giant size. It's not as if Brown just hit a resize button in photoshop then slapped on a filter; he painted it all by hand, adding a great deal of texture and detail (although that's hard to see from the thumbnails in the article).

It's a bit like one writer taking another writer's short story and turning into a novel. There's no reason why they can't both be "art", and if the novelist asked for permission and gave credit there's no question of copyright infringement or plagiarism either.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:20 PM on January 9


It's a bit like one writer taking another writer's short story and turning into a novel. There's no reason why they can't both be "art", and if the novelist asked for permission and gave credit there's no question of copyright infringement or plagiarism either.

Or in the screenwriting world...adaptations of novels into scripts and maybe movies.
posted by Benway at 6:12 PM on January 9


Why can't we talk about Shia LaBoeuf?

because his face is terrible and i hate him


i used to like you
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:19 PM on January 9


I used to do this kind of thing when I was in middle school, before I discovered I was better with words than I was with paint and pencil. Should've kept at it, I guess!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:21 PM on January 9


I like this. Anyone who's worked in a retail establishment that stocks mass market paperbacks knows that when the book/magazine merchandisers come in and pull the books that don't sell they rip off the front cover and throw the rest of the book away. The front covers are returned to the distributor and used to credit the store. The whole book covers as money thing makes his paintings more interesting to me.
posted by edeezy at 6:25 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


i used to like you

i shall not be guilted or in any other way coerced into tolerating his hideous pasty chinless visage
posted by elizardbits at 6:50 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


what if he were covered in adorable kittens who farted unicorns and Hannibal slashfic?

WHAT THEN
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:05 PM on January 9


Papercuts. That's WHAT THEN.
posted by arcticseal at 7:08 PM on January 9


I distinctly recall an interior decorating trend where city hipsters were using a projector to enlarge & paint dimestore novel covers on their interior walls. I considered doing the same myself. I have a wall where that would work well.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:38 PM on January 9


Foss was on the radio the other day and of course this was brought up... he's seems to be not that upset about it and pretty relaxed and didn't appear to hold any (or at least that many) grudges though he did wonder why he couldn't have a show at The Serpentine (which is fair enough point). Apparently he's working on a painting that he hopes to sell for enough to buy the sit-on lawn-mower he's always wanted, which he seemed more than pleased about.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:21 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


I've been hearing the name "Shia LaBoeuf" for a while now, and its only right now, in this very thread, that I've discovered that we're not talking about "Sabrina Le Beauf" from the Cosby Show.

Things make more sense now.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 6:46 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


So, did Foss steal the title "The Stars, Like Dust" from Asimov's novel of that name, or does the phrase come from some prior source I don't know of?
posted by Chrysostom at 7:01 AM on January 10


So, did Foss steal the title "The Stars, Like Dust" from Asimov's novel of that name

Not sure if serious, but Foss's painting is the cover illustration for Asimov's book.
posted by yoink at 8:22 AM on January 10


I was kidding, yes.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:30 AM on January 10


Shia just keeps on giving.
posted by tyllwin at 9:42 AM on January 10


In light of the recent attacks against my artistic integrity, I am retiring from all public life.

I don't believe him, nor care who it will turn out he is quoting.
posted by Artw at 9:56 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]


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