food for selfish thought

food for selfish thought:

biased observations that you may not agree with

jeff koons x plagiarism: a collaboration

Art appropriation. It's absolutely a thing, but is there a problem with it? 

Well, the term certainly has a nice negative connotation, so if you thought to yourself absolutely there's a problem with it then we're in the same boat. 

As I have a tendency to do, I'd like to engage this topic through the lens of high fashion. Take the recent collaborative project by Louis Vuitton and Jeff Koons. I have yet to decide if I'm a fan of Koons, but I do admire what he imbues his work with—nothing. 


That's right. Koons has spoken at length about his frustrations with critics seeking deeper meaning in his works that, simply put, display all their meaning right there on the surface. His famous balloon dog, for example, is not a critique of modern American labor laws or societal pressures on children to mature faster. It's a huge metal sculpture made to look like someone twisted a monstrously large red balloon into a Clifford-sized dog. 

With that in mind, it is quite strange then to contemplate his execution of this collaboration with fashion Mecca Louis V. To briefly summarize, this project looked at paintings that Koons believed were the most iconic works by a handful of famous painters. So, are we supposed to read into it or not? If we are, then I suppose there is plenty of weight to his choices, such as his decision to pick this specific painting from Monet's Water Lillies series because he believed it encapsulated all the others from the series in a single image.


Turning the coin over to examine the other side, if he intends viewers to appreciate this project in the same manner as his sculptures—reading nothing into them beyond their face-value—then why take these paintings? Because they're recognizable works by famous, mostly dead, people? That certainly screams of artistic appropriation. Or perhaps the harsher word that no one wants to use: plagiarism

And, if you're still of the same mindset as me, it will come as little shock to you to know that Jeff Koons is no stranger to plagiarism. The artist has spent his career fighting off lawsuits from others for unabashedly using their work without license or express permission. Perhaps even more ironically, Koons himself has filed suit for ripoffs of his dog balloon, which were overturned on the ruling that the idea of a large balloon animal is not ownable by any stretch of the imagination. 


So then, I will return to my opening question, having briefed you on the testy career of an artist who I hesitate to say I'm a fan of. Is Jeff Koons appropriation—whatever the extent—of these famous works valid? That is to say, since people will undoubtedly purchase these bags from Louis Vuitton, does that validate his idea? 


My hypothetical answer, as best as I have come to it, is as follows. In a perfect world, I'm fine with Koons working on this project behind the scenes. Remove the Jeff Koons branding on the products, leave only the artwork and the name accrediting the famed painter. Honestly, I think these pieces are beautiful, especially Monet's Water Lillies and Manet's Le Bain. But I can't help a certain part of me feeling an instinctual dirtiness when admiring them, because at the end of the day this is Koons appropriating famous artwork for monetary gain, and Louis Vuitton encouraging it. A sad and morally detestable thing to see one artistic profession (fashion) do to another—painting. 

Wade Burton