Jeff Koons sued for copying another artist’s sculpture

Renowned American pop artist Jeff Koons faces an infringement lawsuit for allegedly copying a sculptural stage setting of a serpent wrapped around a rock designed by another artist, which Koons used for his series “Made in Heaven”.

The setting was designed in the 1980s by Michael A. Hayden for Jeff Koons’ ex-wife, La Cicciolina (Ilona Staller), a politician and adult-film star. In a court complaint filed last Thursday, Hayden claimed that Koons had unlawfully used the sculpture in his art. Copies of the sculpture appear in a number of works by Koons in his “Made in Heaven” series. Koons travelled to Italy and took photographs of himself and his then wife Staller on the sculpture, which he then used to create prints, paintings, sculptures and installations for the series.

The “Made in Heaven” series makes reference to art of the Baroque and Rococo periods and became hugely popular after being displayed at the Venice Biennale of 1990. It was commissioned in 1989 by the Whitney Museum and guest curator Mervin Heiferman, who asked Koons to make an artwork and the media on a billboard. The billboard was intended to be an advertisement for an unmade movie entitled Made in Heaven. The explicit nature of Koons’ work incited controversy, but gained considerable attention.

Hugh A. Hayden has stipulated that three “Made in Heaven” works – a sculpture, painting and lithograph – feature the sculpture that Hayden produced. The lawsuit claims that, “the composition, presentation, scale, color palette and media used in the Hayden Work and Infringing Works are remarkably similar, and with little to no distortion”. Hayden’s lawyer, Jordan Fletcher, has stated that: “We believe this is a massive violation of Mr. Hayden’s rights as an artist, and Mr. Hayden looks forward to presenting his case to the Court”.

This is not the first time Jeff Koons has faced accusations of copyright infringement. Hayden’s lawyer, Fletcher, also represented Mitchel Gray, a New York based photographer, who, in 2015, sued Koons for ripping off his photograph from a gin advertisement. Gray claimed that Koons used the photo, which he had taken in the 1980s, without permission or compensation for a painting. This case was resolved in 2016. In 2006, another photographer alleged Koons had appropriated her photograph of women’s feet, a case which Koons won. A similar situation also occurred in 1992, when a photographer sued Koons for using a photo he had taken as the basis of a sculpture. 

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