Rumors that Bravo was developing a new “reality” TV show based around the lives of Chelsea’s young, questionably glamorous gallerinas was confirmed by an April 6 announcement. The show in development is named Gallery Girls, and will “follow the lives of six young, 20-something women that work in New York City’s hippest art galleries.” The announcement was met with an immediate art world conflict — Gallery Girls is the name of a webcomic covering similar territory to Bravo’s show, published since October 2008 by Chinatown resident Mary Blakemore. Blakemore has also held a registered copyright on the name for the past three years, since the comic’s creation. Is Bravo’s show a rip off of Blakemore’s comic? Or could this be a case of unintentional copyright infringement?
The Gallery Girls comic, similar to the show, centers around a group of young women. These women, though, all work at the same art space: the entirely fictional Cecilia West gallery, run by the “Cruella de Vil-like” dealer, Cecilia West herself. From Bridget the conflicted receptionist to the manipulative executive assistant Daphne and Javier, a rich and handsome French art dealer, Gallery Girls may sound like a parody of the art world, with carefully observed riffs on art world tropes and characters. But Blakemore says in a phone conversation that it’s more daydream than satire, a “fantasy about minimum-wage glamor in New York.”
Digitally edited together from dress-up photo shoots with her friends, Blakemore’s comic is graphically punchy and satirical in its knowledge of gallery-work details. The gallerina commentary doesn’t come from firsthand experience in the job, though, nor from an art school background. “ I love going to the galleries, and I’ve been a receptionist before, but not at a gallery. I know that role that you play in an office, and how you can kind of get beat up a little bit.”
Blakemore found out about Bravo’s show on the morning of April 7, when a London-based fan of her comic alerted her to the announcement. Her heart immediately fell. “It was just a huge bummer,” she says. While the show’s narrative is similar to her own comic, exploring the semi-glamorous world of gallerinas, the fact that Bravo picked up the same name is what really stings. “You’d just think they’d do the research, at least minimal outreach,” Blakemore sighs.
Bravo has never contacted Blakemore to discuss the show or its name, though the author has held a registered copyright on the “Gallery Girls” title since the comic’s founding three years ago. When contacted about the show, Bravo’s Senior Press Manager Kristen Andersen would only explain that “the show is still in development,” and that they would “look into it.” Inquiries about the possibility of copyright conflict were not returned.
When asked her opinion of Bravo’s planned show, Blakemore erred on the side of polite. “I don’t know if the people who follow my blog would be interested in following the show,” she says. Blakemore has been developing a video version of Gallery Girls herself, and has filmed several short episodes, which are viewable on Vimeo and below. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to expand [Gallery Girls] for a while,” Blakemore says, “I want to make a webisode. I’ve written the pitch and a pilot, but I need to finish the episodes.” Bravo’s announcement hasn’t dampened the author’s plans, either. “ I’m going to expand my brand because I’ve been doing it already, and I love it, and I love who these characters are.”
Public opinion in the art world seems to be squarely behind Mary Blakemore and the Gallery Girl comic. A post on Artinfo’s In the Air blog about the conflict was met with a 47-comment thread. Commenter MS opines, “WOW, there has been the Gallery Girls comic for a few years now. I’m sure this Bravo series will be no where near as interesting or funny.” Lucy Kim writes, “Does Bravo not have enough money to pay people to come up with their own Concept and Name for a show?” MaverRick echoes, “Reality TV is lazy enough, but are these people so starved for an original idea, or so skeptical about generating original content, that they really have to resort to plagiarism?”
With the divisive Work of Art season 1 behind it and Gallery Girls ahead, Bravo is attempting to make inroads into the art world and transform an insular community into a public spectacle. Yet Bravo is consistently failing to take the art world into consideration. They’re simply not connecting to a worthwhile art community — and what kind of gallery would even allow a camera crew to follow an assistant around? I can’t imagine art getting sold with a sea of video equipment around the reception desk, whether it’s at Gagosian gallery or anywhere else.
Though the extent of possible copyright infringement in this case still isn’t clear, what is clear is that if Bravo’s Gallery Girls is allowed to go ahead without protest, the company will be stepping on the work of a young, local artist. We will keep digging on this story and push Bravo for comment. Stay tuned for updates.
- Find Bravo‘s original Gallery Girls announcement quoted in its entirety below. It has some utter gems of bad PR writing, and the fact that it’s about the art world makes its trashy pandering even funnier. Hippest art scene functions!
Produced by Magical Elves with Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz as Executive Producers
Gallery Girls is a docu-series following the lives of six young, 20-something women that work in New York City’s hippest art galleries. By day they juggle the stresses of their demanding bosses, maneuver through the complicated world they find themselves in and struggle to figure out how to get ahead in a business with so few opportunities to rise up the ranks. By night they are out at the hippest clubs, bars and art scene functions as they juggle their personal friendships, romantic relationships and art world acquaintances. For all these girls, their love for NYC is unwavering but their footing in the art world is anything but solid. Is this what they really want? Will they be able to survive in this business?
- Mary Blakemore‘s Gallery Girls already has some video webisodes, and though they’re not full-length or dialogue-based, they’re pretty awesome. Check one out below.