Like everyone else who appreciates irony, I’ve been following the latest story about Jeff Koons’ effort to claim copyright protection for his “Balloon Dog” sculptures. Koons made a fortune appropriating images from popular culture and so it’s decidedly rich that he’s attacking a wee company selling bookends shaped like balloon dogs.
As far as I can tell, Koons will probably lose: the pricepoint for the bookends ($60 for two) is so low that no one in their right mind would be mislead into believing they were made by an artist of Koons’ standing, and the bookends don’t share key features that might distinguish Koons’ version from those blown by anyVenice boardwalk clown.
I was struck by a passage in a recent New York Times piece about this. The reporter Kate Taylor describes William M. Landes, emeritus professor of Law at the University of Chicago, as sharing “the blogosphere’s view that the business with the bookends made Mr. Koons look a little silly.” Anyone with any familiarity with said “blogosphere” (you’re in it now) knows just how many divergent voices and opinions are aired here, and so it’s a little disingenuous to suggest that all us bloggers agree about this.
But I do think it’s true that participating in the blogosphere makes you much more aware of the appropriative nature of discourse and meaning-making. Conversations we used to have in person are happening in a persistent text-based world where copying and pasting is second nature: it’s not just that we quote one another all the time, we also embed within our commentary links to other comments, articles and digital artifacts that quite literally become part of our contribution to the conversation.
Koons, of course, was clever enough to realize that the act of appropriation and reframing could be meaningful (and lucrative). For him to suggest that there should be stricter limits placed upon the circulation of broadly recognized images not only runs counter to his own artistic practice but also to the act of crafting and communication that makes the blogosphere so vibrant.
UPDATE : The New York Times reported on February 3, 2011 that Koons has given up his suit. Now “clowns everywhere can breathe easier.”