Appropriation artist Richard Prince is involved in yet another dispute over his New Portrait series. As the JLA Beat previously reported, this series of paintings based on Instagram screenshots with Prince’s own comments has been subject to scrutiny for potential copyright infringement. The most recent controversy, however, involves moral rights.
In 2014, Prince created a New Portrait based on an Instagram photograph of Ivanka Trump having her hair and makeup done. He sold the painting for $36,000 to an art advisor, who was presumably acting as an intermediary for the Trump family because Ivanka subsequently posted another Instagram photo of herself next to the portrait.
After the election, Prince returned payment for the Ivanka portrait to the advisor and Tweeted: “This is not my work. I did not make it. I deny. I denounce. This fake art.” The New York Times has commented that Prince’s rhetoric in this post parodies the President’s. Art critic Jerry Saltz suggested that artists whose work is owned by Trump could disclaim their works and render the family’s collection worthless. This has been the case in the past when artists such as Cady Noland have disavowed works of art, causing them to be pulled from auctions and relegated to a kind of art world limbo.
Yet Prince seems to be satirizing himself (and the frequency with which he is involved in lawsuits) by alluding to his legal right to disavow a work of art. The right to disavow works of art in the United States falls under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), which allows artists to prevent the use of their names in association with works they did not create or works so distorted, mutilated, or otherwise modified as to be prejudicial to artists’ reputations. First Amendment issues aside, Prince’s disavowal might not fall squarely within his legal right under VARA to call a work he is known to have created “fake.”
Martha Buskirk, Marc Jancou, Cady Noland, and the Case of the Authorless Artwork, Hyperallergic, Dec. 9, 2013, http://hyperallergic.com/97416/marc-jancou-cady-noland-and-the-case-of-an-authorless-artwork/.
Jonathan Jones, Richard Prince has disowned his Ivanka Trump work, but he can’t wash his hands so easily, Guardian, Jan 16. 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2017/jan/16/richard-prince-has-disowned-his-ivanka-trump-work-but-he-cant-wash-his-hands-so-easily.
Randy Kennedy, Richard Prince, Protesting Trump, Returns Art Payment, N.Y. Times, Jan. 12, 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/arts/design/richard-prince-protesting-trump-returns-art-payment.html?_r=0.
Jerry Saltz, Richard Prince Just Showed Artists a Way to Fight Trump. And May Have Cracked Open a New Contemporary Art Code Too., Vulture, Jan. 13, 2007, http://www.vulture.com/2017/01/richard-prince-just-showed-how-art-fights-trump.html.
Benjamin Sutton, Richard Prince Disowns His Ivanka Trump Portrait, Possibly Increasing Its Value, Hyperallergic, Jan. 13, 2017, http://hyperallergic.com/351403/richard-prince-disowns-his-ivanka-trump-portrait-possibly-increasing-its-value/.