An exhibition at Yuz Museum Shanghai questions the notions of authenticity and originality in art.
Two weeks ago, US pop artist Jeff Koons was found guilty of plagiarism in Paris and was ordered to pay 8,000 to the creator of a 1980s advertising campaign for French clothing brand Naf Naf, which he was accused of copying, featuring a pig (the label's mascot) and a freezing model. Koons even had the effrontery to give his work the same title, Fait d'Hiver. (One of the three editions of the work the artist sold went to the Prada Foundation for .3 million). This was actually the second time Koons had lost out in Paris, after French photographer Jean-François Bauret insisted that a photograph he took of two children had formed the basis for Koons's sculpture Naked. Koons had to pay damages, as did the Centre Pompidou, which had shown the work.
Art and the notion of originality, or lack thereof, along with the notions of copying and appropriation, have always been complex bedfellows. Long before Andy Warhol was painting Campbell's Soup tins and cow wallpaper – the latter of which Kusama: Infinity, a recent documentary by American writer-director Heather Lenz, suggests were inspired by and appropriated from the world's now top-selling female artist, Yayoi Kusama – Marcel Duchamp was proclaiming a men's urinal a work of art.
Some 500 years prior to that, it was the same story. Renaissance Italy was duplicating endless copies of Greek and Roman artworks, and painters such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci told their underlings to directly copy works of art as a means of learning the trade – a practise that continues in art to this day. The Romans and Greeks created endless replicas of their idols, such as Discobolus, using almost a production-line approach.
All of this was brought to the fore when Gucci's art walls in New York were repainted with visuals for an exhibit called The Artist is Present, which had been lifted from Serbian artist Marina Abramović's landmark 2010 work of the same name, and which is on show at the Yuz Museum Shanghai until December 16. The non-profit museum in the West Bund Xuhui district, owned by Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur, art philanthropist and collector Budi Tek, formerly housed the hangar for the city's Longhua Airport.
Behind The Artist is Present is the show's curator, Italian satirical artist Maurizio Cattelan, who was commissioned by Gucci's creative director and cultural wunderkind Alessandro Michele with an intriguingly brief two-word directive: "Shanghai" and "copy".
The Artist is Present features more than 30 artists, showcasing site-specific and existing works that question the most hallowed principles of art in the modern era: originality, intention, expression. In an era where everything is endlessly reproduced, nothing really keeps the aura of originality.