Mike Bouchet and Paul McCarthy's banner in Bilbao (all images courtesy Marlborough Chelsea)

Mike Bouchet and Paul McCarthy’s banner in Bilbao (all images courtesy Marlborough Chelsea)

A building owner in Bilbao, Spain, will remove a large artwork made by artists Mike Bouchet and Paul McCarthy from public display after pressure from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The digital print on vinyl banner, which is installed in tandem with the artists’ current exhibition at the Frankfurt, Germany, art space Portikus, features inverted images of the Bilbao institution embellished by the artists to look like warships.

The building owner’s decision to the remove the artwork follows “days of cease-and-desist threats from the Guggenheim,” according to a representative of Marlborough Chelsea gallery, which represents Bouchet and his collaborative project with McCarthy. An email made available to Hyperallergic contains the text of a letter sent by the Guggenheim to Marlborough’s advertising agency in Spain. Originally in Spanish, it reads in part:

Following our telephone conversation, I would like to inform you that the graphic representation of the Museum building designed by Frank Gehry is a trademark which, according to the Spanish law, gives us the exclusive right to its use as well as the right to prevent use by third parties without our authorization.

From the have information that you gave us, I think your clients indicated that they had permission, which we can confirm is absolutely untrue. On the contrary, we believe that the image displayed on the said property includes connotations that discredit this institution, so we urge you to withdraw the said canvas ASAP.

Another email, this one from the advertising agency to Marlborough, specifically mentions Alba Urresola, associate director of legal and internal control at the Guggenheim Bilbao.

Artists' rendering of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao as a warship (click to enlarge)

Artists’ rendering of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao as a warship (click to enlarge)

Bouchet and McCarthy’s project critiques the architecture of art institutions as “self-serving mechanisms for their board members,” according to a statement from Malborough. “These building designs may be grand experiments and gemstone[s] atop a collector’s crown, but they have implications for artists, and these implications are real. For McCarthy, Bouchet … these unaccommodating structures shift peoples perspective away from their espoused purpose: to view and experience art.” The project began when both artists, independently of each other, made artwork that turned the Guggenheim New York building (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) into a toilet bowl.

According to Marlborough, the building owner plans to remove the artwork on Monday. Hyperallergic contacted the Guggenheim for comment but has not received a response.

Update, 4/11, 10:26am EDT: The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has given Hyperallergic this statement on the matter:

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has not addressed any artist requesting the removal of an artwork.

The Museum wrote to a publicity agency, VSA Comunicación, as they had installed in a Gran Vía building a large commercial banner featuring an image of the Museum, which is trademarked, without the Museum’s knowledge or permission. Said publicity banner does not contain any reference to any artist’s name, so the removal of the billboard was requested.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao absolutely respects the artists’ rights and it likewise protects its own image rights and those of Frank Gehry’s building.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

5 replies on “Guggenheim in Brouhaha Over Bellicose Bilbao Banner [UPDATED]”

  1. Jillian, do Paul or Mike have any comments on the building owners’ decision to take the piece down? Does Guggenheim Bilbao actually have a case that would hold up in court or are they merely threatening Marlborough?

    1. I doubt the Guggenheim has a case, although I’m not a legal expert. It seems like a clear case of fair use appropriation to me. As for the artists, I haven’t spoken with them, but with their gallery leaking this info, I assume they’re pretty pissed (and given the subject matter of their show). Will update and add to the story as I get more info.

      1. That’s what I was thinking too. I have no legal experience but it seems like Guggenheim just wants to throw their weight (or that of their trustees) around. Thanks for the quick reply!

  2. Its important to note that Guggenheim Museum Bilbao bases their copyright infringement claim on this being a “commercial banner”, “publicity banner”, “billboard” by an advertising agency and not an artwork because it does not contain any reference to an artist’s name. That is their legal argument and its the best fodder the world could view to substantiate the very important content of this public artwork.

  3. The Guggenheim Bilbao strongly supports Bouchet and McCarthy’s project critiques the architecture of art institutions as “self-serving mechanisms for their board members,” through their response to the artwork.

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