The French contemporary art community had to push a “phew” of relief: the Paris court finally ruled on Friday in favor of the artist Maurizio Cattelan, in the lawsuit which opposed him to the sculptor Daniel Druet, who had made sculptures for him and considered himself the true author of the works.
For four years, the French sculptor Daniel Druet, 80, known for his work for the Grévin museum, battled against the Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, 61. Between 1999 and 2006, the former produced nine strikingly realistic wax figures for the latter, several of which have become emblematic of the work of the provocateur Cattelan, in particular the pope crushed by a meteorite (The Ninth Hour1999) and a child Adolf Hitler, kneeling in penance (Him, 2001).
Daniel Druet, who had been remunerated correctly for his sculptures (but not commensurate with the stratospheric sums that the works in question are worth today), had repeatedly asked that his name be at least mentioned in the exhibitions of Cattelan . Exasperated that this is not the case, including during the exhibition Not Afraid Of Love by Maurizio Cattelan at the Monnaie de Paris in 2016, to the opening of which he had not even been invited, the sculptor had decided to take his revenge by claiming in court the exclusive paternity of the works.
In April 2018, the Frenchman therefore sued the Perrotin gallery before the Paris court for copyright infringement and infringement, as well as La Monnaie de Paris for having exhibited four of his works without mentioning his name. He intended on this occasion to denounce “all the artists who use the work of others to promote themselves“. This lawsuit has terrified the world of contemporary art for several weeks. It indeed questioned the very notion of creation. Who is the author? The one who conceptualizes the work or the one who realizes it? The principal or the performer?
“When we look at the work of these works, it is indisputable that we have an artistic expression“, whereas “Mr. Cattelan, by his own admission, is unable to sculpt, is unable to paint, is unable to draw“, pleaded the plaintiff’s lawyer, Me Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois, during the hearing of May 13, 2022.
“The material realization of the work takes second place compared to its design“, had defended for his part the lawyer of Mr. Cattelan, Me Eric Andrieu. “Mr. Druet has a know-how (…) but this know-how does not give any creative choice because all he will do is follow instructions“, et “mathematically precise instructions“, he added. What Daniel Druet disputed according to which the orders placed were “waves“.
The Paris court did not follow it. The magistrates ruled on Friday that “it is not (…) not disputed that the precise guidelines for staging wax effigies in a specific configuration (…) only came from [Maurizio Cattelan] alone, Daniel Druet being in no way in a position – nor indeed seeking to do so – to arrogate to himself the slightest participation in the choices relating to the scenic arrangement of the situation of the said effigies (…) or the content of the possible message to be conveyed through this staging“.
The court mainly reproached him for not having brought the procedure originally against the controversial Italian artist, but against his representative, the Perrotin gallery, and an institution which mounted an exhibition of these works, the Monnaie de Paris. “Failing to have summoned in person Maurizio Cattelan, presumed author, (…) Daniel Druet must be declared inadmissible in all his claims for copyright infringement“, considered the court.
The defense considered that this judgment would set an example. “This decision constitutes real case law in that, for the first time, the magistrates consecrate conceptual art by a decision of principle“, wrote in a press release the lawyers of the Perrotin gallery, Pierre-Yves Gautier and Pierre-Olivier Sur.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois, contested this interpretation. In this judgment,there is not a line on the bottom of the folder. It’s an end of inadmissibility, for a matter of form“, he told AFP. “Of course, I regret not having assigned Maurizio Cattelan at the start, but I find the decision totally unfounded (…) The same court, the same chamber, in February 2020, admittedly in a different composition, had recognized our requests as admissible“, he recalled.
The court also condemned Daniel Druet, who claimed 3 million euros from the Perrotin gallery and 300,000 euros from the Paris Mint, to reimburse 10,000 euros to the Perrotin gallery, and the same sum to the Paris Mint. . Daniel Druet’s lawyer plans to appeal or start from scratch by assigning Maurizio Cattelan directly. This last, who lives in New York and was not present at the May 13 hearing, never spoke on this case.