Jeff Koons plagiarized a French photographer’s portrait in creating a sculpture for his 1980s Banality series, a French court has ruled. “Naked” (1988), a porcelain statue of two nude youths standing on a pink heart adorned with flowers, infringes on the copyright of a black-and-white photograph by the late artist Jean-François Bauret. The picture, which was subsequently printed as a postcard, captures a pair of naked children in nearly the same pose as Koons’s figures.
As Radio France Internationale first reported, the artist’s company, Jeff Koons LLC, along with the Centre Pompidou, will have to pay €40,000 (~$42,000 US) to the holders of the rights to Bauret’s image. The company will also have to shell out another €4,000 ($4,200 US) to the Bauret family for posting a photo of “Naked” on Koons’s website. The contemporary art museum in Paris is guilty of copyright infringement because it published images of the sculpture in books during Koons’s 2014–15 retrospective there. As Hyperallergic previously reported, “Naked” was missing from that exhibition; the Pompidou claimed its absence was due to minor damage, rather than the fact that Bauret’s widow had complained the sculpture very closely resembled her late husband’s photograph.
Aside from working in a different medium, Koons’s only creative changes in adapting the photograph were to introduce color; tweak the children’s gestures slightly; and add accessories like the flower, the heart, and a crumpled sheet. These subtle tweaks, the court found, “do not prevent one from recognizing and identifying the models and the pose,” as RFI reported.
As the Pompidou’s president at the time, Alain Seban, said when the infringement claim first arose, Banality’s “very principle is to take mass produced objects and images from the popular press as points of departure.” This principle has proven problematic many times over: Koons has previously lost lawsuits over his “String of Puppies” sculpture, which ripped off a photograph by Art Rogers, and “Wild Boy and Puppy,” whose long-tongued, yellow puppy was found to resemble too closely Odie from Garfield. In December 2014, “Fait d’Hiver” (1988) — a sculpture featuring a pig, a woman, and two penguins — became the center of another copyright infringement suit, after French adman Franck Davidovici accused Koons of plagiarizing his 1985 advertisement of the same name for the clothing company Naf Naf. The outcome of that case is unreported.