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Art & Copyright

July 18, 2011 

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Last week, Artnet Magazine broke the story of the copyright lawsuit between photographers Janine Gordon and Ryan McGinley. At the time, we contacted McGinley’s representatives at Team Gallery and were given no comment. Now that the story has been picked up by a number of blogs and news outlets, Team Gallery owner José Freire has issued a personal statement. Free of lawyerly talk of copyright technicalities, Freire’s text addresses issues of esthetics as well as factual claims. Because of the interest, we are reproducing it here in full.
--Rachel Corbett

A Personal Statement about Janine “Jah-Jah” Gordon vs. Ryan McGinley

When I first saw Ryan McGinley’s work, in a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in very early 2003, I felt that it was a positive development in a photographic zeitgeist that had been spearheaded by Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jack Pierson, Mark Morrisroe and David Armstrong. Obviously the museum’s curator, Sylvia Wolf, thought so as well or she would not have given McGinley that exhibition, making him the youngest artist to ever receive a solo show at that institution. Reviews of the show did, in fact, mention Goldin, Clark and Tillmans as the most salient precursors to McGinley’s work.

When Bob Nickas included McGinley in a show he curated at my gallery less than a year later, I took an even closer look. In the short time since the Whitney show, I could already see tremendous growth in the work, which I then began to follow very closely. When I saw McGinley’s 2006 photographs of fans at Morrissey concerts — a body of work that used as its inspiration the extraordinarily exciting, yet frowned-upon, genre of rock photography — I asked McGinley to join my gallery.

Among the artists named in reviews and essays about McGinley over the years one will find: Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn, Man Ray, Alfred Steiglitz, Peter Hujar, Edward Weston, Catherine Opie, William Eggleston, Ansel Adams, and Dash Snow. Janine Gordon’s name has never once appeared as a comparison. These references, by numerous preeminent critics and curators, were not made to cast doubt on McGinley’s artistic process but rather to describe the status to which his work aspires. McGinley’s photographs sit within an art historical context and, as his art develops, this context becomes larger. The number of photographers to whom his work relates grows exponentially as he continues to move in different directions. Likewise, the number of younger artists whose work now bears the strong mark of McGinley’s influence also increases.

A photograph captures a specific moment in time. A photograph of one girl does not equal a photograph of another girl. McGinley is not a re-photographer. He is an artist who creates dynamic situations in which sometimes thousands of photographs are taken and only one chosen. His editorial choices – which photographs he chooses to actually produce – are, of course, informed by his encyclopedic knowledge of the field in which he works. The photographers that he admires, whether well known or anonymous, have always been openly discussed in his numerous interviews. Gordon’s name has never been among them because she is, quite simply, not an artist he thinks about.

Gordon’s claims for originality are extraordinary: she claims to have invented, among other things: visible grain and other errors in the image; the injection of the monochromatic into photography; the depiction of chaos; the use of smoke; the documentation of sub-cultures; and certain types of rudimentary composition (such as placing figures in the center of the page; or in a dynamic relationship to the edge of the image). She even appears to lay claim to “the kiss” as a “concept.”

Gordon’s argument is with art history; a complex machine which will proceed regardless of her litigation. Art history and popular culture both seem enamored of McGinley’s work while they are clearly passing over Gordon.

Additionally, it must be made clear, that McGinley’s art work is not a bunch of jpegs but rather a photographic print, rendered in a certain scale, and finished in a particular manner — all of which are, to put it mildly, state-of-the-art. I had done a studio visit with Gordon in the late 90s and found the work not only ingenuous and derivative but also so badly produced that it appeared, to my eyes, unmarketable.

Gordon has repeatedly sent emails that attack McGinley’s integrity; emails that claim he is a thief; emails that actually threaten him with physical harm and, in several cases, with death. She has acted more like a stalker than as a fellow artist. Her case has so far cost the defendants (who include the artist and three galleries that have exhibited his work) somewhere north of 100,000 USD in legal fees. And it hasn’t even gone to trial yet. Gordon, it seems, is quite litigious. She has in the past sued rappers Dr. Dre and 50 Cent for having stolen lyrics from her.

McGinley has never offered any kind of settlement to Janine Gordon. She states that there are 150 instances of “copyright violation”, however, these include numbers of images which are video stills taken by persons other than McGinley during extensive commercial shoots, pictures not even taken by McGinley, and images which resemble each other only if cropped; rotated; inverted, rendered in grayscale, or otherwise dramatically altered.

We are confident that Gordon’s case has absolutely no merit whatsoever and that her litigation will ultimately do more damage to herself than to McGinley.

I have worked with Ryan McGinley very closely over the past five years and know of no other artist whose integrity and pursuit of artistic merit is more rigorous. His generosity towards other photographers and artists is touching. He continues to push his work in myriad ways and offers a sterling example to young artists of how a D.I.Y. approach to art making can actually produce tremendous success.

José Freire
18 July 2011
New York City

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