The Belgian artist Luc Tuymans who was recently found guilty of copyright infringement, after losing a legal battle in his home country over the alleged plagiarism concerning a portrait the artist created in 2011 has spoken to Artlyst about the case, its politics, and its wider implications to the art world and the fate of the painting which caused the controversy.
A civil court in Antwerp ruled on 15 January that Tuymans’s painting ‘A Belgian Politician’ (2011) borrowed too heavily from a photo of politician Jean-Marie Dedecker taken by Katrijn Van Giel. The court has forbidden the artist from publicly exhibiting the painting or making additional versions of the work; according to Belgian daily, De Morgen, Tuymans will be subject to a €500,000 (£382,000) fine if he makes any further reproductions of Van Giel’s work.
The artist gave his own opinion to Artlyst on the subject: “On 23rd January when I got a phone call from a nondescript female person at 8.30 in the evening, which happens to be a journalist from this specific newspaper, who’s name I cannot utter any more, who new the press photographer who created an image that was in that very newspaper, years ago, that I photographed with my iPhone – and then one-and-a-half, or two years after the image appeared in the paper, I created the painting called ‘The Belgian Politician’ – so they connected that to the original image because they wanted to make a story out of it.”
The artist continued “So I asked for the phone number of the photojournalist, and phoned her up, and she was very honoured that I did that, and I said that we’d change it [the painting] and mention her name – to which she said ‘is that everything?’ – well what the fuck? do you want to make a case out of it? The next morning front page news! Then she got the lawyers, and the whole thing… First the judge didn’t want to go there as it was too complicated – and our lawyer was the one who made the law on copyright – so this painting is now going to become iconic, we are appealing, it will be a very important painting, it will be an historical painting – and they will thank us! – and to use eloquent words and a British statement ‘we shall never surrender’.”
But it’s insane; and you have to understand that the French press doesn’t go there, the Flemish, not all of them, but especially this newspaper does – because this is a very right-centre newspaper and they’ve been hating me for decades, they actually even organised a television programme in a very democratic way: because everybody was against me, then finally they called me an arrogant bastard, so they could really vomit all their envy out on me because I’m really famous, that’s why when the painting is shown again or reproduced – and I allow it – it’s half a million in royalties, because I’m very renowned and well known.
Tuyman’s concluded: “So if you’re good at something they will punish you. I’ve been fighting ignorance for my entire life, so I’ll go on doing it. There has been enormous support worldwide, even the Queen of Holland is on my side, so it’s ridiculous. The judge didn’t see the real painting – because it’s in the States – but we made a copy, printed, and we took it to the court to show the difference between the painting and the original image – and their lawyer said ‘ah ANOTHER copy!’ – these lawyers did all this for the publicity, but of course they didn’t expect this type of publicity, globally, and very negative, so now they accuse me of mobilising the entire art world against them, so there’s always something else…”
The penalty imposed by the court is 10 times the damages originally requested by Van Giel’s solicitors. Tuymans did not deny using Van Giel’s image as the basis for his work.
“Previous cases of plagiarism against such artists as Richard Prince, Shepard Fairey, and Jeff koons, proves that taking artists to court is becoming a trend, unfortunately this is getting out of hand, and we should look at Andy Warhol, as his work wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t for the act of appropriation.” States Artlyst editor Paul Carter-Robinson.
Words: Luc Tuymans with Paul Black Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2015 photo Artlyst all rights reserved