Maurizio Cattelan’s sculptures have made headlines worldwide for their controversial subjects and their attention-grabbing gestures. Now, they have become the subject of scrutiny in France for a new reason: their authorship, which is at the heart of a lawsuit that is headed to a Paris court next week.
In that suit, the French sculptor Daniel Druet claims that he is the creator of nine works credited to Cattelan, including the famed 2001 sculpture Him, which features a penitent Adolf Hitler kneeling on the floor.
According to Le Monde, the lawsuit aims to have Druet named the “exclusive author” of the Cattelan sculptures, and seeks nearly 5 million euros ($5.25 million) from Perrotin gallery, which represents Cattelan, and the Monnaie de Paris, a museum which staged a Cattelan retrospective in 2016.
The lawsuit claims that Cattelan infringed on Druet’s rights as an author, an allegation that a lawyer for Perrotin has denied. The case will be heard starting on May 13 in a chamber of the Paris courts that is dedicated to intellectual property suits.
In a statement to ARTnews, Perrotin gallery said that the case has the potential to determine how the legal system treats conceptual art going forward.
“The 100-year-old case law currently governing the criteria to determine an artwork’s authorship is unsuitable for conceptual art,” said Pierre-Olivier Sur, a lawyer representing Perrotin. He added, “If precedent does not evolve, it could have serious consequences for the actors of the art world.”
Druet is a sculptor of wax effigies of some renown in France. He produced some of the more famous objects on view in Paris’s Grévin Museum, which is dedicated to wax sculptures. Among the sculptures he has produced are ones of the musician Serge Gainsbourg, who personally modeled for Druet.
The sculptor claims that Cattelan reached out to him in the late ’90s and asked him to do a dozen sculptures. Both Druet and Perrotin seem to agree that the terms of Cattelan’s arrangement with him were ill-defined. Druet told Le Monde that the circumstances of their deal were “vague.”
“We were naive,” Emmanuel Perrotin, the dealer who runs Perrotin gallery, said in an interview with Le Monde, adding that Druet and Cattelan “did not talk about a contract.” Perrotin and Druet concur that Cattelan paid the sculptor for his work.
Druet alleges that he sculpted some of Cattelan’s most well-known works. Among them is Stephanie (2003), which depicts collector Peter Brant’s wife, Stephanie Seymour, in the nude, in a pose where she appears to emerge from a wall with her hands covering her breasts. A version of the work sold at auction for $2.4 million in 2010, and Cattelan returned to the work in 2020 for a Garage magazine cover in which he posed Kendall Jenner in a similar manner.
What Is Authorship?
There is a long history of famous artists employing others to fabricate or paint elements of their pieces. That lineage extends all the way back from the times of the Old Masters, many of whom ran workshops that included dozens of assistants, to more recent artists such as Donald Judd, who sent detailed schematics to fabricators for his specific objects, or Sol LeWitt, whose wall drawings can still be executed according to his exacting instructions.
In his own work, Cattelan has long called for a reinterpretation of what constitutes authorship. “I believe we should get rid of the copyright-reigned world, where ideas coincide with property,” he told W in 2018.
Asked if it was important to credit those he works with, Cattelan said in that interview, “Speaking about legal matters, of course it is. Speaking of the possibility to always credit everyone and everything that inspired you, sometimes it could very hard to tell your ideas from your experience and from others’ ideas. How can one state the source of its creativity with absolute certainty?”
Yet Druet allegedly never received mention of his work for Cattelan. Literature that came with Cattelan’s La Nona ora (1999), a sculpture of a pope being crushed by a meteorite, reportedly does not contain information to the effect that Druet created the wax effigy.
Cattelan has faced allegations that he stole others’ ideas on one other prominent occasion. In a 2005 interview with Vanity Fair, artist Vanessa Beecroft said she had an affair with Cattelan. “Every time that I tell him something, he turns it into reality,” she said, spurring widespread speculation. Asked to respond by the Guardian, Cattelan kept silent, saying, “Whatever I say could be used against me.”