MANHATTAN (CN) – Opening night celebrations Friday for the Gagosian Gallery’s two-month-long exhibition of the furniture of late Austrian artist Franz West will not be barred by a copyright lawsuit calling the works “essentially, an imitation,” a federal judge ruled.
The Gagosian’s exhibition “Franz West: Möbelskupturen/Furniture Works,” running between Sept. 11 and Nov. 7 at its Upper East Side space on 976 Madison Avenue, displays what the influential gallery calls in promotional materials “literally paintings to be sat on.”
West, who died three years ago, is a celebrated Austrian artist known for examining the functionality of his sculptures.
“It doesn’t matter what art looks like but how it’s used,” West told the New York Times in 2004.
Last week, the Viennese nonprofit Archiv Franz West accused the Gagosian of damaging the late artist’s legacy by planning to use “unauthorized” versions of his work in the exhibition, according to a Manhattan Federal Court lawsuit.
Calling itself the copyright holder of the works, the archive said that West’s furniture art came into the Gagosian’s possession through a foundation established in his name five days before the artist’s death on July 25, 2012.
West had been “severely weakened and suffering severe pain” inside an intensive care unit of a Viennese hospital at the time the “alleged assignments” to the Franz West Privatstiftung occurred, the lawsuit says.
The dispute over who owned West’s furniture works and photographs landed before the Commercial Court of Vienna, which the archive says ruled in its favor earlier this year.
At the time of the squabble, Gagosian’s director Ealan Wingate sat on the foundation’s advisory board, according to the lawsuit.
The gallery’s imminent exhibition and sale of West’s work risks depriving his heirs of royalties, damaging his artistic legacy, and lowering the commercial value of his art, the archive claims.
“The fact that the furniture that Gagosian plans to sell is an unauthorized – essentially, an imitation – version of West’s work is not disclosed to the potential buyers,” the archive’s attorney Eric Seiler wrote in the lawsuit.
Gagosian’s lawyer Matthew Dontzin bristled at this allegation in court papers.
“This is not a case where an established copyright holder seeks to enjoin the production and sale of knockoffs,” Dontzin wrote in an opposition brief.
Since the archive “lacks the technical expertise” to make the furniture, the foundation has been the sole manufacturer of West’s furniture work ever since the artist’s death, Dontzin argues.
“The archive’s dispute here is not with Gagosian Gallery, but with the foundation,” the gallery’s brief states. “Gagosian Gallery does not manufacture any furniture, and it is selling the furniture only in its capacity as the foundation’s consignee.”
Meanwhile, the gallery says that the archive has had trouble convincing courts elsewhere to block the sale of West’s furniture elsewhere.
Gagosian’s brief says that a Swiss court rejected the archive’s attempt to stop an exhibition by Zurich-based Galerie Eva Presenhuber last month, and a Viennese court denied a request for a temporary restraining order against the foundation on Tuesday.
Following suit, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton also declined to issue a temporary restraining order against Gagosian in open court on Tuesday.
Archiv Franz West’s lawyer Robert Lack, of the firm Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP, said in an email that it intends to continue the litigation.
Gagosian’s lawyers and spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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