Yesterday, Artinfo reported that yet another copycat scandal had broken out in the comments section of the Instagram account belonging to neo-Expressionist painter Cecily Brown, and for once, Richard Prince is not involved. Artinfo writes, “A few weeks ago, [Brown] posted images of work by a less celebrated neo-Expressionist on Instagram. Like Brown, the California-based Sherie’ Franssen lays down a flurry of pinks and beiges from which fleshy human forms emerge.”
In the caption, Brown wrote,
“This person is making copies of my paintings but doesn’t acknowledge me even as an influence. I think she has some kind of app that cuts and pastes them. She’s pretty good at making my work. Ignore it? Check out the one of the crowd of women. It’s just about identical to works from my last Gagosian show.”
Who tipped Brown off, I wonder? This has apparently been going on for awhile—if you Google “Sherie’ Franssen,” “Sherie’ Franssen Cecily Brown” appears as the third suggestion. “Those who know the work of contemporary painter Cecily Brown may find Franssen’s paintings, especially An Unfinished Woman and I Had a King, uncomfortably reminiscent of it,” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kevin Baker nearly a decade ago, in November 2006. He softened the blow by adding, irrelevantly, “Then again, both painters practice a style so demanding as to discourage imitators.” In 2008, he changed his mind: “After seeing Brown’s latest New York gallery show—a triumph by almost any measure—it strikes me that she has been moving more in Franssen’s direction, toward dissolving everything in gesture, than the other way around.”
Among the 80 or so sympathetically outraged comments the post received (“fuck this bitch up,” wrote Derek Blasberg; others merely encouraged Brown to seek legal action), Jerry Saltz wrote consolingly, “Just a sad pretend artist. Probably not in NY or LA, I imagine.”
When determining whether an artist has appropriated work, courts consider four factors: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the original work, the amount and sustainability of work used, and the effect this appropriation may have on the market. This case, however, is far more elementary—did Franssen copy Brown’s style or didn’t she?
The article quotes Barry Werbin, a partner at Herrick, Feinstein LLP who serves as chairman of the firm’s intellectual property practice:
“Today, could [the Impressionists] all sue each other for copyright infringement, under the law? No, they are not plagiarizing each other. If there is a woman with a parasol here, but there are different depictions, the shapes are different, the perspective is different, that isn’t copying. Am I using the same concepts and style? Yes. Is that infringing? No.”
Gallerist Lisa Dolby Chadwick defended her client, Franssen, telling Artinfo that both artists “are responding to the challenges of Williem [sic] de Kooning, while borrowing from the palette of Philip Guston.” OK.
The article returns to Werbin, who concludes that ultimately Brown should abandon all hope of winning a suit against Franssen unless she can prove copyright infringement, which, given their style, would be nearly impossible. At least we can be sure which is the “sad pretend artist,” as long as Franssen stays out of New York and Los Angeles.