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When artists and photographers 'borrow'

February 27, 2010 |  8:00 am


It seems like something out of a Charlie Kaufman film.

Last month, the New York-based photographer Sze Tsung Leong was on location in La Paz, Bolivia, when he received a phone message from his New York gallerist, Yossi Milo. It had come to Milo’s attention that a Canadian photographer was exhibiting a series of works in Vancouver that bore a striking similarity to an ongoing series by Leong. An image of the Canale della Guidecca Giudecca, in Venice? The Canadian photographer had it, and from the same perspective as Leong’s. A cracking ice floe in Iceland? An Egyptian pyramid? A Japanese shrine? He had those too, all cropped and composed in similar fashion.

Paris2 Using images sent to him by a source in Vancouver, Milo identified seven photographs that he believed to be, if not “exactly the same,” at least “very similar” to Leong’s, as well as several images that bore direct resemblance to works by the German photograhers Elger Esser and Andreas Gursky.

But it was Leong, a rising art world star whose work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the International Center of Photography, who appeared to be the principal source for the Canadian photographer, David Burdeny. The installation style of Burdeny’s “Sacred and Secular” series at Vancouver’s Jennifer Kostuik Gallery seemed to be borrowed from the rather idiosyncratic presentation of Leong’s “Horizons” series at Milo’s New York gallery.

A little investigation on the Internet revealed to Milo that Burdeny, 41, had studied architecture before turning to photography, as had the 39-year-old Leong. It all brought up the question: Did Leong have a doppelgänger stalking him around the globe, reproducing his images?

To read the full story of this interesting case in the Arts & Books section, click here.

-- Mark Lamster

Photos: At top, "Seine I" by Sze Tsung Leong; below, "River Seine II, Paris," by David Burdeny.

Credits: Yossi Milo Gallery, New York (top); Kostuik Gallery, Vancouver, Canada (below)

Comments () | Archives (9)

Some views just beg you to take them -- the Washington monument between the pillars of the Lincoln Memorial is a classic example. Also, I remember noting that there was one specific panel of the Vietnam Memorial that always showed in newspapers and magazines. Even at mundane events, two separate photographers will often end up having taken the same pretty view of some object or person...

I find it hilarious, and typical of contempt art, that this Leong chap says he wanted to to create a personal style by working in series. Series are for those incapable of creating a work that stands alone, that rids itself of the maker, and has its OWN personality, of life. Not the individuals desires and ego, and so striking the passions of the viewer and triggering layered emotions.

One cannot copy great artists and get away with it, one can plagiarize their style for minor or failed works for profit from "masters" and fool the academics. But not realize creative arts true purpose. To reveal humanity, nature and god as one. Its an excuse to mediocrity, supremely achieved in these works, and most contempt art.

Stop lowering the ceiling unto the floor. Art is not entertainment, nor simply items of commerce or academic curiosities. They start with passion and end with them. There is no emotion in series, unless they grow organically and by accident like Moonet's Cathedrals, Haystacks and waterlillies. Each stands powerfully and deeply on their own. They do not rely on others, each its own world, reflecting our own. Time to become ambitious for ones work, and not ones place in teh fashionable and party cerntered art scene.

Creative art is not entertainment. Time to stop with one's own ego enhancement, and lose oneself through mastering ones craft into the whole, as those from antiquity through Michelangelo to Cezanne and on to John Coltrane achieved.

art collegia delenda est

I disagree with this statement, "Series are for those incapable of creating a work that stands alone, that rids itself of the maker, and has its OWN personality, of life."

Series are for those who have more than one thing to say about a particular subject. I have seen many series of works where the individual components were extremely valid on their own, and yet manage to provide a glimpse or chapter of a much larger story.

That can, and has been for millenia, all be put in a single work, and msuust be, for it to be powerful. Illustrating one idea at a time is mediocrity and shallow thinking, and hollow feeling, and so lacking vitality and energy. Art and life are about relationshipos, things in themselves mean nothing. When this is learned, life opens up to more. And THAT is arts role.

art collegia delenda est

series are for those who wish to incorporate telling a story into their work or maybe show a progression. I happen to think a series is one of the most powerful forms of artistic expression and have used it in my own career as an artist many times.

This guy Burdeny is a forger. Creating images that sell for half the cost of the originals.

You are describing photo journalism Daphne. In paint or drawing its illustration. Thats not creative art. However, some of the best illustrators and journalists CAN be artists too. Witness how Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz, and DeCarava created images that haunted, that stood on their own, that struck a passion in the viewer. Not weak timeline dependent story telling, thats more movies and journalism. Not art. Art is layered, has multiple emotions focused on a great passion, it is poetic and musical, and cannot be described in words. Thats journalism. Not art.

Art academies avoid defining creative art nd its various brothers and weak sisters, fine art, applied art, decorative arts as ways to feed the egos, and strip the wallets, of the tens of thosuands of lemming like students they churn out every eyars. There are never more than a handful of creative artists at one time. Sometimes in era's of great change, it blossoms, now is the beginning of such a time, as with the Renaissance, Modern art, even the classical art of the Hellenes, and bursting forth of great movements like Buddhism, Islam, and national identity like Japan.

It's simple, very inclusive, yet obvious to all those who surround themselves with the great art of the world and past, not stuck in the fashionable artscene of selfish partying. Creative art is defining who a group is, now all of humanity since modernism. Exploring nature, through both science and living with and adapting to the world around us. And searching for god, whatever that means to you, but based on finding purpose in creation.

All art that has lasted fulfills this criteria in various ways, the form doesn't matter. Purpose is all. The above is meaningless. They are cute snapshots of particular times and places, things that vary, with only the temporal involved, and so open to serialism. And therefore, mediocrity. Thats not art. It's something, but placing the name of art on it is filled with hubris, and a lie for ones ego satiation. Not Truth, they only thing worth following. Veritas. Adapt to what is, not adapt truth to ones own desires.

art collegia delenda est

Whenever an artist becomes successful or even as early as school there are going to be everything from parallel artists with the same influences and interests to the compulsive artist who is so moved by what another artist does they have to copy them. Painter Malcome Liepke is an example of both. He as another artist who came up at the same time as him and others who have copied him subject and style. Liepke has his own debt to Degas in influence, but has transcended that influence into his own style. There are so many artists who take the route of doing work in the “school” of another; it’s sad, but not libelous, as you can’t own a style. Direct coping is another matter.
In this case from the limited information in this article it would seem we have an artist coping another rather than a parallel development. Perhaps technically it isn’t copying with a camera when you compare just one image to another as light and time passage will make differences, but if it goes to court and if they show lots of similarly composed images it’s going to be easy to get a jury to see a pattern and award damages. If the intent is made clear, it’s an unhealthy obsession that going to cost the copyist big in reputation and money. His galley should have sobered him up.
It’s not an excuse, but an argument can be made for the thief as it is not only is approbation of other art condoned; it’s lauded as often being better that the source material. Pop art being the beginning of it. Now we have come to the point where it might be a good time to just stop doing it and be original.

The work by "Burdeny" is a travesty -- it's so obvious. Even his surname sounds like an invention, such as the altered spelling of an Italian family name.

Worse still, "Burdeny's" Vancouver gallerist, Jennifer Kostuik, sounds complicit in what appears to be a reprehensible act of flagrant thievery.

To use another artist's detailed description as the blueprint for your work, that you then try to pass off as your own, deserves all the censure the Art world can muster.

This is truly shameful behavior.

The records of the Leong catalog receipt purchased by Burdeny and the Canadian gallerist's emails trying to schedule Leong's works all point to intentional poaching of another artist's developed, recognized work. This evidence shows malice and premeditation, and trumps all other conversations about originality or artistic interpretation, in my opinion. This is not harmless serendipity. Artists, gallerists, and collectors alike should all be very concerned.


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