The Danish artist Tal R has won an injunction against a pair of Faroese art provocateurs who wanted to cut up one of his paintings and use the canvas to make decorative faces for their line of designer wristwatches.
Dann Thorleifsson and Arne Leivsgard, who five years ago founded the watch company Kankse, had purchased Paris Chic, one of Tal R’s brightly coloured Sexshops series, for £70,000 at the Victoria Miro Gallery in London in August.
Copenhagen’s maritime and commercial court ruled in favour of Tal R, forbidding the duo from going ahead with their project and ordering them to pay 31,550 Danish kroner (£3,600) in legal costs, arguing that as the scheme was an alternation rather than a destruction of the work, it contravened copyright law.
The project, the court added, misused Tal R’s artistic standing for commercial gain, and threatened to damage his reputation. The artist’s lawyer, Jørgen Permin, said after the verdict that he was “very pleased with the very clear decision”.
“We hope it will mark the end of this case and that it will mean that Tal R and his fellow artists may avoid similar disputes in the future,” he added.
On Monday afternoon Thorleifsson and his partner were still discussing with their lawyer whether to reach a settlement, appeal the injunction, or to push ahead with a full-court case next month. “It’s not the best verdict for us,” Thorleifsson conceded. “There had been a lot of examples discussed in court but they painted it as very black and white.”
In October, the pair revealed plans to use Tal R’s canvas as raw material to manufacture between 200 and 300 watches for Letho, their new brand, which they aimed to sell for at least 10,000 Danish kroner each.
In its verdict, the court showed a screengrab from an online auction on Letho’s website where a buyer had offered 41,000 Danish kroner for a chance to be the first to choose which piece of canvas they wanted.
“We needed an artist that was esteemed by experts because we also needed to get a reaction,” Thorleifsson said. “If we just took a $100 canvas, no one would really care. It needed to be a true masterpiece.”
The duo, who also run a Copenhagen based design studio, have purchased paintings by three other recognised Danish artists, John Kørner, David Birkemose and Jens Birkemose, assisted by funding from an unnamed patron.
In October Tal R dismissed the pair’s plan calling it a “disrespectful” attempt “to make money and get attention by making a product out of my art”. His legal team had argued that the scheme was a clear case of copyright infringement.
“He acknowledges that whoever purchases one of his works would be at liberty to sell it on or even destroy the work,” his lawyer said. “But what he is not obliged to accept is for someone to alter the work and then reintroduce it to the public domain, and particularly not for commercial reasons.”
Heidi Højmark Helveg, who represented Thorleifsson and Leivsgard, had argued that as the project involved destroying rather than altering the work, it was legal under Danish law. “The pieces will be so small that it will not possible to know in any way which work it is from,” she said. “Each watch will take just 0.04% of the original work.”
Tal R’s legal team argued that argument failed because the watches would be marketed “specifically as having Tal R’s painting as background”.
While the pair’s now discontinued Kanske brand had been a commercial venture, Thorleifsson said their Letho project intended to test the boundaries of art. “It’s not a commercial project, but we don’t know if it is an artistic project. That has to be determined by others,” he said.