A recent lawsuit filed in Paris is shaking up the foundations of the contemporary art world and its market, hitting at the very core of this world. The crux of the issue is the meaning of authorship in contemporary art.
The Italian widely famous artist Maurizio Cattelan is certainly a name that everyone who keeps an eye on contemporary art has heard numerous times. However, most of us have never heard of the French sculptor Daniel Druet, at least not up until now. He is in fact the main character in the story that could become a turning point of the contemporary art world. This story is dealing with a subject that has become more and more delicate. That subject is authorship and its meaning in the fine art world, especially in the conceptual art movement, one of the most widespread movements of our times.
In the lawsuit he has filed, Daniel Druet claims to be the creator of nine artworks that are generally known as artworks by Maurizio Cattelan. Among the sculptures that he claims “exclusive authorship” of, is the largely acclaimed work Him, featuring a pious Adolf Hitler kneeling on the floor. Him reminds us of a child-like innocence (fig. 1). The sculptor claims to be the exclusive author of these nine artworks and is asking for a reimbursement of 5 million and 250 thousand US dollars from the Perrotin gallery, which is the gallery that represents Cattelan, and from the Monnaie de Paris, a museum that showcased a retrospective on the artist’s work in 2016.
Fig. 1 - MAURIZIO CATTELAN, HIM, 2001, Wax, human hair, suit, polyester resin, 101 x 41 x 53 cm
(© Perrotin Gallery)
The Perrotin gallery, in dialogue with ARTnews, has stated that this case has the potential to determine how the legal system will treat conceptual art from now on. “The 100-year-old case law currently governing the criteria to determine an artwork’s authorship is unsuitable for conceptual art,” stated Pierre-Olivier Sur, a lawyer representing the Perrotin gallery. Sur concluded, “If precedent does not evolve, it could have serious consequences for the actors of the art world.”
Daniel Druet is a wax sculptor and renowned within France’s borders. Druet was well known even before Maurizio Cattelan reached out to him in the early 90s to commission a dozen sculptures. The agreement was never well defined, as both Daniel and the Perrotin gallery have agreed. There was never a contract, Emmanuel Perrotin noted to an interview to Le Monde.
Daniel Druet has never received mention from Maurizio Cattelan on the works created by him and this is the focal point of his accusation and why he is asking for reimbursement. When confronted by the Guardian, Cattelan replied that he would stay silent, adding, “whatever I say could be used against me.” It is in fact not the first time that Cattelan faces allegations against him. In 2005, his former lover, artist Vanessa Beecroft, accused him of stealing her ideas and turning them “into reality.” Maurizio Cattlen’s position is very clear, “In art, all you can do in the end is appropriate that which surrounds you. So it is never a robbery. At the most it is a loan. Unlike thieves, artists always give back the stolen goods.”