Kurt Kauper: Working from (someone else’s) life

Kurt Kauper: Everybody Knew That Canadians Were The Best Hockey Players,” Deitch Projects, New York, NY. Through December 15, 2007.

Kurt Kauper presents nude portraits of old Boston Bruins hockey stars in a show at Deitch Projects. Last week in the NYTimes Art in Review column, Karen Rosenberg reported that reading Kurt Kauper�s nude portraits of the former hockey players Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson as a rote comment on the fragile state of American (or Canadian) masculinity is too simplistic. “They work better as an erotic and personal tribute, one that draws on the artist�s childhood in a Bruins-worshiping Boston suburb; the neo-Classical figuration of Jacques-Louis David; and the overt sensuality of pre-Stonewall ‘athletic’ films.”

Today in the Boston Globe, Geoff Edgers considers how the players are reacting to the paintings. “Not everyone is a fan. Orr didn’t return calls about the paintings. And former Bruin Brad Park, who played briefly alongside Sanderson and Orr and looked at the works online, said he ‘would not walk across the street to view this art. I see a picture of Bobby with some genitals, and a picture of Turk with some genitals. That’s hard to take,’ said Park. ‘I definitely would think Bobby would be uncomfortable with it. Derek, in his heyday, would have posed for it.’ Park also wondered how an artist could create a nude of a celebrity without permission. George Tobia Jr., an attorney at Burns & Levinson specializing in entertainment and copyright law, said Kauper could run into trouble were he to try to mass market Orr’s image on T-shirts or postcards. But he has every right to paint him.” Read more. Incidentally, Kauper, who was interviewed for the article, says that people always assume he’s gay, when in fact he’s not. He lives with his wife and kids in New York.

In the Phoenix “Free for All” blog, attorney Harvey Silverglate writes in greater depth about the legal challenges artists may face when we use images of famous people. “Some states provide more onerous restrictions on artists than others, usually under the guise of protecting the subjects who are claiming a property right in their own image or likeness. California, for example, has a robust “right of publicity”, which people can invoke in order to control how their image is used. (This is no surprise, given the number of movie stars in that state who vote and make campaign contributions.) However, other courts around the country have limited the right to control one’s image as a means of controlling publicity, given the obvious tension with the First Amendment’s protection of free artistic expression. In 2003, a California court rejected rock guitarists Edgar and Johnny Winter�s lawsuit against D.C. Comics for publishing a comic book that depicted their bodies as being half-man, half-worm. The court explained that the comic book contained ‘not just conventional depictions of [the Winter brothers] but contain significant expressive content other than plaintiffs� mere likenesses.’ The defamation problem, coupled with the ‘right of publicity,’ are legal issues that could give legitimate artists like Kauper headaches.”

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