Intellectual property or ATM machine?

Balloon dog bookends sold by imm-living.com.

The news that Jeff Koons has sued a gallery in San Francisco for copyright infringement—based on his claim that a pair of bookends is a copy of his”Balloon Dog”—I think throws a spotlight on the real “engine” that has driven a good deal of his work: money. (See the New York Times article In Twist, Jeff Koons Claims Rights to ‘Balloon Dogs’) In an earlier age where irony was king, he discovered that copies of popular culture icons and symbols had the appearance of a serious artistic approach and established a process for cranking out piece after piece. An artworld focused on flash enabled success, even though most of the work was yet  another iteration of the same joke.

Both Marcel Duchamp—with his readymades—and Andy Warhol—with his Brillo soap boxes—were making their audiences rethink the relationship between Life and Art, and the artist and his work. However, with Koons, a knowing smirk seems to be the desired response to many of his pieces.

(Photo by Criesca.)

In this light, one has to wonder whether “Puppy,”the giant sculpture made up of flowers in front of the Guggenheim Bilbao, was an accident. It feels like a winner on so many levels: scale, the changing nature of “permanence,” and sheer visual delight among them.

To claim ownership of the idea of a ballon dog though seems like the problem with patented genes—when something is so much in the public or natural domain, how can an individual or corporation claim property rights that bring with them a financial reward? It’s as absurd as corporations being able to exercise “free speech” in the form of unlimited campaign donations. (Oh, I forgot—they can.) I hope this bubble bursts.

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