If you haven’t seen the Oscar nominated documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop it’s well worth checking out and available to stream on Netflix. The film tells the story of Thierry Guetta AKA Mr. Brainwash a French appropriation artist who many believe is simply a made up character/actor created by British graffiti artist Banksy. The film also stars Shepard Fairey and goes into good detail on the history and rise of street art. What’s fascinating, if you read up on the hoax theory before watching the film, is that Banksy might have pulled off an elaborate modern “Emperor’s New Clothes” tale and certainly Guetta and to some degree the popularity of street art reads that way in the film.
Last week The Hollywood Reporter uncovered an ongoing lawsuit between photographer Glen E. Friedman and Guetta for his use of an iconic Run DMC image and THR draws parallels between the now settled AP vs. Fairey lawsuit. In an article for Boingboing (here) Sean Bonner explains why this use would not be considered “Fair Use” but the Fairey use would. It all hinges on the Friedman image being iconic where the Mannie Garcia image is thought of as “a random press image.” My problem with this perfectly logical argument is that you’re creating a new gray area for a type of use (fair) that is full of gray areas. At what point does an image become iconic or a clearer way of looking at it, at what point does it have value. Fairey admitted that he looked a thousands of images before settling on the perfect one (Garcia’s) so that indicates value. Any image an artist decides to use immediately has value, so in my opinion if an artist want’s fair use they need to transform it into something else or only use a small piece. Deciding if it has value is impossible and certainly not something we want the courts to decide. Visit the MOMA to see a blank canvas, ripped canvas and canned shit if you think otherwise.