Carol Vogel May Have Plagiarized David Foster Wallace’s Times Obituary

David Foster Wallace.


Yesterday, Fishbowl NY reported that a recent lead by New York Times arts reporter Carol Vogel may have been plagiarized from Wikipedia. A quick survey of Vogel’s work in the the Times archives reveals four more examples of questionable repetition in recent Vogel articles.

The first example, and one most similar to the initial chargethat had Vogel allegedly lifting a factual tidbit about the artist Renaissance painter Piero di Cosimo from Wikipedia—comes from the December 26, 2013 edition of her column Inside Art. The questionable passage relates to a show of work by Piero della Francesca at the Metropolitan Museum of art and reads as follows:

As an artist, [Met European paintings chairman Keith] Christiansen explained, Piero never was without work, and, unlike Botticelli or Bellini, he had not developed a large workshop for the serial production of paintings for private devotion.

Though Vogel quotes an interview with Christiansen in the paragraph preceding this (implying that Christiansen is also explaining this in person), the concept appears to have been lifted from Christiansen’s essay in the show’s catalogue, on page 13 (available on Google Books here), in a passage that reads:

The very rarity with which Piero undertook such private commissions testifies to their exceptional status, for Piero never lacked work and was not one of those artists who developed a large workshop for the production of serial devotional images, as, for example, Sandro Botticelli and Giovanni Bellini did.

The second example of questionable repetition mirrors a description from The New York Times‘ own 2008 obituary of the writer David Foster Wallace, in which Bruce Weber calls his novel Infinite Jest “a 1,079-page monster that perceives American society as self-obsessed, pleasure-obsessed and entertainment-obsessed.”

In 2011 Vogel previewed a show at the Met titled “Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire From Leonardo to Levine,” and in that piece referenced the Wallace book, calling it a “much-loved novel that perceives American society as self-obsessed, pleasure-obsessed and entertainment-obsessed.” She then noted that the book had nothing to do with the show’s title which, like the book’s title, is taken from Hamlet.

The next instance of possible plagiarism would seem to use the Museum of Modern Art’s own language to describe the work of John Cage. On October 4, 2013, she wrote that a show opening that week at the museum “is using its recently acquired score of 4’33″ to examine Cage’s influence on visual artists who also explored issues of space, time and physicality.” MoMA’s own calendar listing for the show—published well in advance of its opening—finishes with reference to these same three concepts, and says the show features work by artists “who pushed preconceived boundaries of space, time, and physicality to new ends.”

The last instance we found this afternoon would appear to be self-plagiarism, two stories from 2013 and 2014 that both describe the artist Sarah Sze as being “known for creating site-specific environments from everyday objects like toothpicks, sponges, light bulbs and plastic bottles.”

Of the initial instance of alleged plagiarism, New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy wrote to Gawker, “We’re aware of the situation and are looking into it.” Murphy responded with the same sentence when asked for comment regarding these new instances via email.

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  • Bill Dedman

    Wait a minute. This article criticizes Vogel for “lifting” a fact that she attributes: “Christiansen explained.” (Moreover, the author has no way to know whether Christiansen mentioned in the interview the same fact that was in the catalog.) And can one lift a fact?

    • Dan Duray

      She doesn’t say it’s from the catelogue and, look, it’s possible that he phrased his thoughts in person in nearly the exact same way that he did in the catelogue. All this is tries to be very generous to her. I’m just pointing things out.

      • queschunmarke


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  • Debbie Gimelson

    Well, it is hard doing what she does week after week year after year. But as a former art journalist, I always thought there was so much out there upon which to opine, that plagiarism was never necessary and just shows a tired imagination.

    • Mr. One-Off

      It is difficult writing as she does so regularly and periodically. But, just like comment boards, I’ve always felt that there are so many things out there on which to comment, that plagiarism is not required and evinces a certain stagnation of one’s grey matter.

  • Anthony L

    None of these supposed examples of plagiarism are really anything more than trivial similarities in quoting facts and phrases available to all which are entirely unoriginal in nature and quality, and as instances of implied culpable naugtiness serve only to exhibit the lack of sophistication of the critics in how articles are put together in modern circumstances of time pressure and overwhelming information already instantly available to all writers and readers.

    Reporters are not academic experts or profound critics and reasonably are not and should not be expected to deliver some creative and novel expression of the standard facts and common opinions they are reporting, as if they were founts of original ideas and research, instead of mere reporters. To object to common and inevitable practice is quite absurd and a line of witch hunting which should be laughed at by the Times, not naively taken up by .their new ombudswoman,

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