IP Law and the Art of Analogy?

Left to right: Claudia Ray (Goose), Virgina Rutledge (Egg), Anthony Falzone; Center bottom image: "Smokin’ Joe Ain’t Jemama" in Hank Willis Thomas's "Unbranded,'' (1978/2006) from the book ''Pitch Blackness'' (Aperture, 2008) (graphic by the author for Hyperallergic)

The New York City Bar Association’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Appropriation: Contemporary Art After Cariou v. Prince” was, as billed, “a frank discussion of fair use and artistic practice.” And it was, indeed, frank, with all six panelists speaking plainly and tough audience questions encouraged. But it was also, clouded and meandering, the way that all intellectual property discussions are.

For those who may need a refresher, Cariou v Prince, involved photographer Patrick Cariou who sued Richard Prince (the grandaddy of appropriation art, most famous for his re-photographs of cowboys and cigarette ads) for copping a wanton number of photographs from Cariou’s published collection, Yes, Rasta. Prince lost the first round and an appeal is pending.

What captured the art world’s attention, and sharpened thee focus of intellectual property (IP) law experts was the tsunami of speculation that followed the court’s very harsh decision against Prince in which he was ordered to hand over the contentious works to Cariou and to notify all current owners of the essentially cancelled series.

Was this a turning point? Would it have a chilling effect on appropriation art? What was governing these decisions? Were they out of control?

Read More on Hyperallergic

Olek’s Appeal Verified by My Interview with Jonathan LeVine

JON_LEVINE_120_FPAGE-590x258

“The charges are not that serious. In NY it would have been a really minor incident.”

When I decided to phone the Jonathan LeVine gallery which represents Olek, I knew that they would have been fielding calls all day. Since word had gone live via the Jerry Saltz page on Facebook, three or four articles, including my own, had hit the air overnight. But Jonathan LeVine took my call. It felt good to have an opportunity once and for all to clear up all the doubt, and also to learn where Olek’s representation was in all this.

What follows is a transcript of our phone conversation:

TAM: Did Olek call you right away after the incident happened?
JL: I think I learned about it pretty quickly after it happened. After she got out of jail.

TAM: So when she called you, was she distraught?
JL: No I haven’t spoken to her on the phone. It’s all through e-mail.

TAM: Oh. Hmmm. I see. So you’ve never spoken to her on the phone.
JL: No, I haven’t spoken to her on the phone.But we’re in contact with her all the time. We just represented her in a fair. I mean, she just signed a bunch of prints for us so it’s — it’s definitely her that I’m in contact with if that’s the question.

TAM: [Laughing]Yeah, well that is DEFinitely the question.”
JL: [Laughing] Well it’s definitely her.

TAM: It’s the question that’s on top of everybody’s minds.
JL: This isn’t a hoax. I mean it’s legitimate. And she doesn’t have money and it’s very expensive to deal with the attorney.

TAM: Right. But people are confused, like about how she was able to set up that page which they think looks very elaborate — it has a bunch of links for PayPal and stuff like that— Did anyone advise her that this might not look good?
JL: Well, initially — this conversation was going on for a while– and her attorney was saying that maybe — she shouldn’t say much about it. So her attorney advised her not to  do it. But she didn’t have any other way so her attorney said okay you can do this.

TAM: Do you have any details of her case that she’s not put online?
JL: No. I mean I can’t say anything. I can’ t say anything more than she said about it.

TAM: So you KNOW more you just can’t SAY more.
JL: That’s correct.

TAM: So you are clear about the incident and how it linked to her arrest.
JL: Yes. Yes I am. As a matter of fact I helped her find her attorney through some of my contacts in England.

TAM: So is there a fundraiser maybe coming up?
JL: You know hadn’t actually thought about that. Because this thing initially–we weren’t supposed to talk about it so– it wasn’t even until last night that she posted it.

She was debating about whether she was going to make it live or not. So I guess it went live last night. I come in today and have a whole bunch of people calling me.

TAM: Well it went live last night because it kind of went live on Jerry Saltz’s page.
JL: Yes. That’s right.

I think we’re probably going to give it a couple more days. You know. See what goes on   before I start talking about that–because it just went live and I want to see what happens. And also we need time for a little organization to put togther a fundrasier. I’m not opposed to it at all. Someone asked about it on Facebook and I hadn’t really thouhyt about it all because this all just happened [snaps fingrs] just like that.

I’m just going on the advice of what she tells me to do and what her attorney is telling her to do.

TAM: Right. Well, just now I e-mailed her and she just said I’m tired of this and if people don’t believe me then they can’t help me. But I really think that people are so used to being scammed and this sounds so much like a million of them.
JL: Sure.

TAM: Really and people can’t help but want the details.
JL: Sure….

TAM: And they also want to know who they’re defending.  I mean if the charges are that serious…you know then—
JL: I don’t think that the charges are that serious…but I just think that she was just treated in a certain way.

And in New York, I feel that it would have been a really minor incident. And for whatever reason it turned into something bigger than maybe it should have.

TAM: Wow. That’s horrible for her.
JL: It is. It is pretty horrible. It’s kind of a messed up situation. I really — I don’t  want to say too much because I can’t.

TAM: Right okay… is there anything else, when I write this story up, that you’d like to put out there to clear things up?
JL: “I would just say that it’s legitimate. And she’s just in a situation that’s unfortunate. I guess what happened is she didn’t have any contacts there and so she didn’t have an attorney to call and she didn’t have money for that either so I guess she just ended up with just what was given to her.

TAM: So why didn’t she have any contacts? Is Olek that much of a loner?
JL: Well, if you’re in England and you get arrested…and she lives in the US she’s Polish. I don’t even know if she’s been there before. She doesn’t know a lot of people there. And at first maybe she thought is wasn’t going to be that serious either.

TAM: Right. And did they take her cell phone away?”
JL:  I don’ know what they did. I don’t know anything about getting arrested in England.

I can’t really speak for her because I didn’t ask her any of these questions. I didn’t like interrogate her to see what the hell happened. You know it’s more like ‘this is what happened, this is the situation’  ‘oh okay ’ —So I immediately contacted somebody that I know that helped her find a suitable attorney.

TAM: Right I see.
JL: And that’s where she’s at right now

TAM: Well, Jonathan, thank you so much. This has actually cleared up — well, a LITTLE bit …[laughing] it’s still a mystery.
JL: I’m sorry I can’t give you any more information. But I can say that it s legitimate. I can say that here it would have been something minor but –you know– she got a bad attorney and now she is in a situation.

TAM: And is it safe to say that you’re still talking to her about this and about when you can release information?
JL: Yes. Absolutely.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Postscripts:

The Jonathan LeVine Gallery has posted Olek’s appeal on its site

Updates Regarding Charges and Trial Date

New York artist, Olek detained in U.K.

An Olek installation; it is featured at the top of her Appeal page

On Sunday, December 11th, I, and many other people, got a message on Facebook from the artist, Olek. Famed for her crocheted art, she has recently become very well known for covering the Wall Street Bull and the Astor Place cubes in her signature pink and purple loops. I had friended her a while back and subsequently have shown a video of her Working Woman in Red performance piece in two shows.

In a characteristically bland way, Olek wished us all a happy holiday and also requested that we help her “fight for her freedom.”

Here’s what she wrote

I wish you a great Holiday season this year. I will be spending it in the Crown Court in London fighting for my freedom. here are the details: http://www.olekappeal.com/
password:london

I wish I could explain more… but my lawyer gave me an advice not to say too much at this point. I tried everything… public solicitors, US embassy, friends of friends and this is the best solution. To fight it, i need your help. Buck after buck will rescue me from this misery. Pls, consider supporting me…. I do need help from every single person who ever seen my work… to be able to produce even more.

thank you and I do appreciate your help

buzi buzi
Olek

ps. do not post it anywhere

Olek’s appeal | Olek needs your help
www.olekappeal.com

I had, a few days prior received a similar e-mail but had dismissed it as obvious spam. We’ve all seen those badly written notes from “friends” of ours who suddenly need help. I simply trashed it.

But I have to admit, it stayed on my mind.

It had only been a week since I’d gotten an e-mail from her asking me to hang on to a piece of art she’d had in one of my shows. She asked if I could keep it for “two months” –a request that is not usual at all. Usually artists are eager to have their work back after a show.

I’d found it odd but shrugged it off.

The Facebook message gave me pause. So I wrote to her, not at the address she gave in the FB message, but to the address I regularly use to communicate with her. She told me it was all true. She also said she could not tell me any more details than the suspiciously sketchy ones she supplied on her linked page “Olek’s Appeal”. On that page she supplies a statement that was approved by her attorney.

Here is the statement:

“Olek recently arrived in London in order to fulfill a variety of professional engagements; the first of which was to donate a piece of art work to a charitable organization. On October 6th after donating a piece of her art to the charity at a show in London, Olek was involved in an incident with a drunk and aggressive male who behaved reprehensibly.

The incident happened extremely quickly and not knowing anyone in London or able to access her cell phone for numbers she was swept up into the legal system and treated very poorly. This has resulted in very serious charges being leveled against her which she strenuously denies. She has not even had the chance to state her case before a Court and she must await a statutory timetable before she can present her case properly.

She has now been fortunate enough to be referred on to an appropriate lawyer to defend her against these entirely false allegations, but effective legal representation in cases like this comes at a cost. Today, she needs your help to assist her to get through this terrible and unfair ordeal. At the moment she is facing serious charges with a risk of custody if she is not represented properly and able to expose the untruths and falsehoods in the allegations made against her.”

Worried that if I, myself,  had doubted the validity of this story, others would as well, I wrote back encouraging Olek to reach out to the press. And in order to assure her that I wasn’t just trying to clambor after a scoop, I told her mentioned several other avenues she could take to publish her story. I assured her that by doing so, she could legitimize her story and reach more people and get more support. But she told me that there was a lot I did not understand and that this was impossible right now.

One of the people I’d mentioned to her was Jerry Saltz. I don’t know if this is why Olek wrote to Jerry to ask for his support, but she did and he posted her link. Out of the Jerry Saltz string, came some support when fellow artist, Savanah Spirit shared Olek’s link on her own page, urging support.

Olek commented stating:
“It happened two months ago and I had a public solicitor who put me into bigger troubles. now, i have a proper representation and i need to find money to pay the bills. once i win it, i want to create an emergency grant for artists that actually really works.”

Asked about the American Embassy, she said only that they “said that they will visit me once I am imprisoned. they also told me i can crochet there…”

Olek has become known for the soft-heartedness that is belied by her steely outward demeanor. When some youths in Poland burned some of her artwork, she did not press charges but told them to crochet clothes for the needy. She says that in future she wants to visit prisons and ” teach crocheting with ladies who are trapped there.

Doubters came on board Savannah’s page and voiced their qualms about the artist’s strange story, one of them challenged her to call someone to verify her voice and her situation, so she asked me to call her.

I did and we chatted very briefly via Skype. She was very tired and needed to go to bed but she thanked me very much for making the call and asked me to write on Savanah’s page. So I did.

And now I’ve written here as well.

Stay tuned, Olek has her first court date Dec 22 and has promised to let all her friends, old and new, know what will follow.

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