This week the ongoing legal feud between the Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vō and the Dutch collector Bert Kreuk took another turn toward infantile name-calling. After a court in Rotterdam made the unprecedented ruling last month that Vō must make a new, “large and impressive” artwork for Kreuk within the next year to settle their dispute, the artist — who plans to appeal the court’s decision — made a very public, satiric, and offensive proposal to Kreuk. But, wait, why again are these two adults behaving like toddlers embroiled in a sandbox shoving match?
Kreuk claims that Vō agreed in January 2013 to create one or more new works for an exhibition of pieces from his collection at the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, Transforming the Known. Under the terms of the agreement, according to Kreuk, he would then pay Vō €350,000 (~$379,000) to acquire the new work for his collection. However, before the exhibition opened on June 8 of that year the artist provided an existing work, “Fiat Veritas” — a cardboard box with gold leaf whose title translates to “Let There Be Truth” — and signed a loan agreement with the museum. The collector had an injunction placed on the work to prevent the Gemeentemuseum from returning it to Vō when the exhibition closed in September 2013. A year later, still having not received the new artwork he claims he was promised, Kreuk filed a lawsuit against the artist.
On June 24 the lawsuit was decided in Kreuk’s favor. The judge ruled that Vō must make him a new artwork, for which he will receive the sum the pair allegedly agreed upon in early 2013, €350,000. If the new work is not delivered by June 24, 2016, the ruling stipulated, the artist and his dealer Isabella Bortolozzi will have to pay €10,000 (~$10,830) for every day it’s late, up to €350,000. “Although [Vō] has artistic freedom,” the judge noted in her decision, “he will have to talk to Kreuk about the design of the work.” Under the terms of the decision, Vō was ordered to cover Kreuk’s legal fees and the collector was told to return “Fiat Veritas” to Vō. However, the collector has since obtained another injunction to prevent the return of the sculpture because he claims Vō has yet to pay his legal fees.
Earlier this week, ostensibly in an attempt to “talk to Kreuk about the design of the work,” Vō sent the collector a letter describing the piece he intends to create to settle their accounts. Vō’s “proposal,” sent from the general email address of Artists Space — where he is listed as a member of the “40 Years Artists Space Program Fund” and a supporter of the current Tom of Finland retrospective — reads in full:
I am writing to you to make the following proposition as fulfillment of the court’s verdict. However, you must understand that I insist that my site visit to the Gemeentemuseum in January 2013 did not lead to an agreement about a commissioned work. Your friends director Benno Temple and chief curator Hans Janssen of the Gemeentemuseum, as well as your art advisor and uncle by marriage Theo Schols made, in my opinion, false witness declarations: the amount of $350,000 was never mentioned, neither that I ‘spoke specifically about figures/numbers’, nor that after the supposed agreement I was ‘jumping around for joy’. I will make sure all of this will be corrected in the appeal proceedings. As you are aware, I have already instructed my lawyers to begin this process.
Notwithstanding my decision to appeal – and with reservation of all my rights and defenses – I am prepared to execute the court’s verdict, and propose a new work based on current themes in my practice. I refer to works, which I made for the Danish Pavilion in the 56th Venice Biennale 2015, which take the form of writing by my father, Phung Vo. His writing has been a continuous part of my production since 2009, which I have publicly announced as my most important contribution to the arts.
Considering the requirements as set forth in the verdict, I will propose to make the following work:
For your residence in Panama as well as in room 38 of Gemeentemuseum, I will have my father Phung Vo execute a site specific wall work, in which he writes out the following sentence indicated below; it is a line delivered by the demon from the film ‘The Exorcist’, which – as you may know – constitutes a source of inspiration for my latest body of work. You may voice your preferences with regard to its design (as far as a selection of fonts and colors are concerned) and manifestation to the extent it will become as impressive and large as you find fitting for the amount of $350,000:
SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS, YOU FAGGOT
I would like to hear from you in writing before Wednesday 22 July, 2015 if you accept my proposal.
Kreuk, unsurprisingly, was not amused by the letter and its homophobic punchline. “It is like I landed in some kind of surreal world. Artnet News had Danh Vo’s letter before I did,” he told Artnet News. “The court ruled that both parties should be in touch with each other in a ‘professional way’ and to ‘normalize relations.’ I do not think this type of behavior is what the courts meant by that.”
It’s unclear how much longer the Kreuk v. Vō affair will go on, but their inability to resolve this disagreement like adults, without resorting to injunctions and insulting emails, is a sign of startling immaturity. Since nothing constructive can come from this dispute, perhaps the best we can do is vote on which man is acting like the bigger baby.