Over the years, Jeff Koons has faced a series of lawsuits over his appropriation of others’ work in his own art about consumerism and desire. Now, he has been hit with yet another, this one focused on his re-usage of a stage-like setting for works made as part of Koons’s series “Made in Heaven,” which features him and his ex-wife, the former porn star La Cicciolina, in sexually explicit positions.
Michael A. Hayden, the person responsible for that object, claims in a lawsuit filed on Thursday in New York’s Southern District Court that Koons has committed “blatant, unlawful, and worldwide infringement.” He is seeking a hold on sales of “Made in Heaven” artworks featuring his sculpture, as well as credit in texts accompanying any future exhibition of them.
Begun in 1989, Koons’s “Made in Heaven” series constitutes prints, paintings, and sculptures, and ranks among the artist’s most polarizing bodies of work. Upon the exhibition of works from it at the 1990 Venice Biennale, critics panned the series, prompting allegations that Koons had jumped the shark.
Hayden’s lawsuit focuses on three “Made in Heaven” works: a lithograph, a sculpture, and an oil painting. In those works, the sculpture that Hayden produced—a platform upon which La Cicciolina could perform that features a serpent and a rock—can be seen. According to the lawsuit, Hayden “did not intend” for his sculpture to be used “commercially” by La Cicciolina, her manager, or her company. Hayden’s suit says that he only became aware of the “Made in Heaven” works in 2019, when La Cicciolina sued Sotheby’s for displaying a “Made in Heaven” painting.
“The composition, presentation, scale, color palette and media used in the Hayden Work and Infringing Works are remarkably similar, and with little to no distortion,” the lawsuit claims.
A representative for Pace Gallery, whose roster includes Koons, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Koons has faced similar allegations previously, with mixed degrees of legal success for the artist. In 1992, a photographer sued Koons for using a photograph of a man holding puppies as the basis for a sculpture, and later settled. In 2006, another photographer alleged that Koons committed infringement by appropriating her picture of women’s feet; Koons prevailed, in that instance. In 2015, yet another photographer claimed that Koons infringed on his copyright by reusing an advertisement he shot for a French clothing company and sued both the artist and the Centre Pompidou. Koons and the museum lost that suit.
It’s uncertain how Koons will fare this time, although it’s possible that the outcome will be impacted by an appeals court’s decision on an infringement suit regarding an Andy Warhol work earlier this year. The court said that, although Warhol had slightly changed the look of a Prince portrait shot by Lynn Goldsmith, his work was not “transformative” enough to consider it fair use. That case has since been returned to a lower court.
Correction, 7/25/22, 10 a.m.: A previous version of this article misstated Hayden’s first name. It is Michael, not Hugh.