Been meaning to get to this story because I think it touches on some important issues regarding art when it comes to the nature of truth and the often overstepped line between art and commerce.
Here's the link to the LA Times story.
For those who haven't heard about it, a lawsuit is being brought by a Mr. Clint Arthur in Los Angeles district court against Louis Vuitton over the selling of limited edition prints of Takashi Murakami during his 2007-2008 exhibition at the LA MOCA.
Within the exhibition Louis Vuitton erected a store where select leathergoods and accessories were sold that were part of the wildly successful line the pairing created. Limited edition prints were also sold, two of which were purchased by Mr. Arthur at $6000 a piece. It seems he was a little put out once he got them home and discovered there was no certificate of authenticity and no documentation on how they were created, only a squiggly "M" printed on the back.
It turns out the limited edition prints were remade from the very same silkscreened material used to make the handbags.
Well Mr. Arthur did a little investigating and found that Louis Vuitton may have violated something called the California Fine Prints Act which provides specific guidelines to dealers selling multiples.
A judge has now given the green light for the case to go forward disregarding Louis Vuitton's argument that the claim is baseless because Mr. Arthur should have known that he was getting handbags remade into expensive prints. Accessories with the same design were for sale in the same boutique and Murakami is famed for blurring the line between art and commercial products.
I think Louis Vuitton needs to get some better lawyers, because what is stunning in this case is Louis Vuitton's sheepishness and ambiguity in the marketing of these items in their boutique if indeed this connection was a no brainer.
With regard to Mr. Arthur, one could say he is simply looking for his fifteen minutes since Louis Vuitton offered him a full refund and he refused insisting instead to see this through in court.
I don't think Louis Vuitton is wrong for selling the artwork, but at the same time Mr. Arthur is not wrong to ask for some accountability. Louis Vuitton just maintained the smug facade too long, and it will likely end up being their downfall. Why not proudly state what the items are? Did Louis Vuitton think consumers wouldn't buy them without the concocted label. I don't think it would have made any difference. People are mad for the stuff. So why do it?
What happened here is the art world met the commercial world and things got messy. In the art world, which I'm defining as the world within the museum walls, it is very easy to discuss the blurring between art and commerce. It is something abstract, to consider, to debate, to chuckle about, to be influenced by, even be affronted by, but there are no victims. The dialogue takes place within the confines of the museum FREE of commerce. Once commerce comes into play the stakes get higher and this is where the art world stumbled into quicksand, because when dollars and cents are involved, the commercial world is far less amused by such discussions.
In an investment one is looking for certainty. In art one is looking for questions. How can the two coexist? This dispute is a small window into questions about art that have been long debated: Quantifying art with money, the essence of authenticity and the responsibility of advertising. When the nature of the art is playing fast and loose with authorship and when advertising has become part of the art, expect more lines to be blurred and more lawsuits to be filed.