March 25, 2011


 Patrick Cariou, from Yes, Rasta
 A federal judge in Manhattan has ordered Richard Prince to destroy a series of artworks apparently worth several tens of millions of dollars. The work in question consisted of reproductions of photographs by the French photographer Patrick Cariou, lifted from his book Yes, Rasta and roughly and very minimally overpainted by Prince; according to the court, Prince and his gallery, Gagosian, were in clear breach of Cariou’s copyright. “He and the gallery”, reported the Guardian, “were found to have acted in bad faith by not asking permission to use Cariou's photographs or withdrawing them from sale when the photographer sent them notice”.

While I’m not usually a supporter of ongoing American attempts to increase and widen the scope of copyright in all directions, it’s impossible not to sympathise with Cariou in this case. Prince is a tedious artist who place is more in the discourse of art business than that of art. His value is effectively limited to providing a useful paradigm of the concept of appropriation (itself a concept of severely limited interest); once the point is made, which shouldn’t take more than a handful of seconds, the intellectual and artistic content of Price’s work has been exhausted.

The crassness of the defendants was reflected in the language of their legal representatives, who asserted that Cariou's photographs were "mere compilations of facts … arranged with minimum creativity … [and were] therefore not protectable" by copyright law. The defence, one which has been used with some success in the past, was based on the premise that the appropriated work, lacking all artistic merit of its own, had if anything been improved by Prince’s scribbles. As it happens, Cariou’s Rastafarian portraits (see above) are impressively skilled and powerful images, and it strikes me that the photographer could well have sued Prince, not so much for copyright infringement as for artistic vandalism.

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