Above: The NafNaf advert and the Koons sculpture. Credit: Fair use.
The only and entire point of postmodern art is to proceed by way of pastiche (remaking, copying) and/or acts of artistic appropriation (literally just stealing a pre-existing image). Appropriation art practice can be broadly understood as an anti-art strategy which intends to challenge two of the most entrenched petit-bourgeois beliefs about art, namely that an artist's work should include evidence of technical ability, and second that it should include evidence of an attempt at originality (uniqueness). This subversion of conventions carried on in appropriation art has been going on in its recent format since 1985 (although the tradition can be traced back at least to 1917) and it is very well understood by all participants in the scene of contemporary art (this type of artistic ruse is discussed from day-one week-one in art schools, for example). In 1988, US-based postmodern artist Jeff Koons made a sculpture based on a cloying NafNaf advert he had saved from a fashion magazine. The sculpture he made was part of a series he titled Banality. The artistic idea (which is the one idea of all of Koons's work for forty years) was to pastiche an image which had already become established in mass culture as a popular cliche. In order to make these works it is obvious that Koons had to plagiarize the initial cliche-maker. Given his artistic strategy, this was completely unavoidable. This week a French judge found Jeff guilty of plagiarism (for the NafNaf pastiche) and fined him £118000. The judge's interpretation of the law upheld the classical petit-bourgeois position: the NafNaf advert was sovereign and copyrighted and Jeff's work was outright plagiarism. That judge may know a lot about justice, but he doesn't know the first thing about art.
(14 November 2018)