Ah, the promise of a new online art platform. So young, so fresh, so full of ideas about the future. And yet, so muddled about the present as to take an artist’s work and make prints of it without permission.
The platform is called Art:i:curate. Launched in London last year by two women named Irina Turcan and Nur Elektra El Shami, it’s a familiar-looking of the moment art site/network/startup, premised on members “building your personal collection, following artists, and sharing the art you like.” The organization also plans events and exhibitions based on those selections. Art:i:curate’s existence is predicated on the notion that everyone’s a curator: “The conception of ‘curating’ no longer belongs exclusively to the art world. Together we want to redefine the meaning of ‘curation’.”
But artist Luke Turner claims that Art:i:curate ripped him off by making and selling illegal prints of his work. He’s created a website specifically devoted to outlining what happened and “exposing” the company. Essentially, Turner joined the platform in March 2013. In June, he received a request from the founders to use the image of one of his artworks, “The Ontic Order (II),” on a set of postcards. He assented but became suspicious when they asked him for a 7012-pixel file, which he noted is “in fact, exactly the size needed to make an A2 print.” He inquired about this discrepancy but they reassured him the image was just for a postcard. Turner sent a 3000-pixel file. Then, in November of last year, he received an email from someone who had backed Art:i:curate on Kickstarter and, as a reward, received a “print” of Turner’s “The Ontic Order (II).” Such prints, the artist says, were made illegally by Art:i:curate from the 3000-pixel file he had sent for postcards. (The Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded at £15,500 — roughly $26,000.)
Turner has also published the related email correspondences, which seem to support his claims. The Kickstarter campaign itself describes the reward, which does not name Turner but at the £75 level offers a “Special edition A2 ART PRINT” (emphasis theirs). The backer forwarded Turner the email he received from Art:i:curate, and it quite clearly states that he’s receiving an “A2 print … artwork.” El Shami’s response to Turner on this is fairly unconvincing; she attempts to position the Kickstarter prints as simple promotional materials:
2. The print you are in posession of is not a “A2 limited edition print”. It does not have numbering.
3. Our company produces printed materials of all types and sizes for promotional purposes.
4. It is our mandate to promote the work of artists on our platform, including yours, by the consignment agreement you signed with us, in June 2013.
Hyperallergic reached out to Art:i:curate for comment on the matter. El Shami and Turcan asserted, via email, that their Kickstarter campaign precedes their agreement with Turner:
art:i:curate raised funds to organise exhibitions featuring over 25 artists through the support and donations of its friends, family and immediate network through Kickstarter in April 2013, 2 months before any communication and collaboration with Mr. Turner started. Mr. Turner’s work was neither known to us at the time, nor mentioned on Kickstarter.
Turner claims he signed on with them in March. Either way, the rewards of a Kickstarter campaign are necessarily sent out after the fundraising goal has been reached — their page specified an estimated delivery date of June 2013 for the reward level in question.
El Shami and Turcan continued:
art:i:curate and Mr. Turner agreed in June to create cards to promote the artist and his work. Due to unfortunate staff misunderstandings, a mistake occurred and once it came to our attention, we acknowledged the mistake and the artist’s concerns, apologised and returned the prints.
It seems possible that because El Shami and Turcan don’t have art backgrounds, they didn’t realize the scale of the error they were committing; maybe they genuinely thought that an artist’s image printed “on heavyweight fine art type paper” (Turner’s words) and stamped with a copyright line counts as promotional material. This is the slippery slope, one thinks, of making art “more democratic and accessible than ever before.”