Tal R, “Paris Chich” (2017) (courtesy of Victoria Miro)

A court in Denmark issued an injunction against two watchmakers who planned to cut up an artist’s painting and use the pieces of canvas as decorative faces for a line of luxury wristwatches.

Dann Thorleifsson and Arne Leivsgard, owners of the watch brand Kanske, bought the painting “Paris Chic” (2017) by the Danish artist Tal R for £70,000 (~$90,000 ) at Victoria Miro gallery in London this August. The painting is part of the artist’s “Sexshops” series which depicts the exteriors of sex clubs, massage parlors, strip clubs, and red-light districts from around the world.

In October, the two watchmakers revealed plans to slice up the canvas and use it as for the design of between 200 and 300 watches that they planned to sell for 10,000 Danish krone (~$1,500) each, the Guardian reported.

In an email to the Danish newspaper Politiken in October, Tal R condemned the project as a “disrespectful” attempt “to make money and get attention by making a product out of my art”, the Guardian’s report adds. The artist turned to court to try to stop the project, although he acknowledged that once his painting was sold, the owners gained the right to do whatever they wish with it.

“He acknowledges that whoever purchases one of his works would be at liberty to sell it on or even destroy the work,” Tal R’s lawyer, Jørgen Permin, said on behalf of the artist. “But what he is not obliged to accept is for someone to alter the work and then reintroduce it to the public domain, and particularly not for commercial reasons.”

In a hearing at the maritime and commercial court in Copenhagen in November, Permin asked for a remedy for copyright infringement. Heidi Højmark Helveg, the attorney representing Thorleifsson and Leivsgard, argued that the new project would destroy the painting rather than alter it, something that the Danish law allows.

Today, the court finally ruled in favor of Tal R, accepting his argument that the design is an alternation rather than a destruction of the work, and hence violates copyright law. The court forbid the designers from proceeding with their project and ordered them to pay 31,550 Danish krone (~$4,700) in legal costs.

The court added that the project misused Tal R’s artistic standing for commercial gain, and threatened to damage his reputation.

“It’s not the best verdict for us,” Thorleifsson said after the ruling. “There had been a lot of examples discussed in court but they painted it as very black and white.” According to the Guardian, Thorleifsson and his business partner still have not decided whether to reach a settlement, appeal the injunction, or relitigate in a full-court case next month.

Permin, on the other hand, said, “We hope it [the decision] will mark the end of this case and that it will mean that Tal R and his fellow artists may avoid similar disputes in the future.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

3 replies on “Danish Court Stops Watchmakers From Cutting Up An Artist’s Work to Create Timepieces”

  1. The headline had me thinking this was some classic work from a bygone era. It’s a contemporary artist who got paid? So it’s the owner’s property now. What’s next? Suing owners of art for mishandling? Improper climate control in their homes? This story is sooo…precious! What a first-f**king-world problem.

    1. You miss that it’s arguably an intellectual property violation. Material or physical property has nothing to do with it. Also, your pure contempt and cursing are unwelcome.

    2. The painting may be the owner’s property now, but it is not their intellectual property. Is this any different than buying a painting and then putting it on a t-shirt, or a tote bag, or whatever other crap the company is peddling?

      Destroy it, fine. But replicate it/alter it and sell it as a product? Have a little respect for the artist and the work. This is an important precedent to set for the future to protect the artist and their reputation.

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