“There’s a whole lot of authorship going on” Sean Fader X Richard Prince
By Annie Shepard, December 31, 2014
Picasso famously said “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
But in the age of the re-tweet and the re-gram, is sharing the same as stealing? How has social media changed our sense of authorship? Sean Fader and Richard Prince’s tiff over an Instagram photo illuminates new ways of thinking about these issues.
It all began with a wishing pelt and a selfie. And by wishing pelt, I mean Sean Fader’s chest hair. For his piece, #wishingpelt, Sean invited viewers to whisper a wish into his ear, run their hands through his chest hair, and photograph themselves doing it. To seal their wish they had to post the image on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr, with #wishingpelt. On the first day, @rasfotos posted a pic to instagram with #wishingpelt, beginning an art world avalanche.
Richard Prince or @RichardPrince4 (read more on the story of Richard Prince’s Instagram here) saw the photo, and commented on it. That is normally where this story would have ended, but it keeps going: Richard Prince then made a monumental print of Fader’s image from @rasfotos’s feed on canvas and put in hisNew Portraits exhibition at Gagosian Gallery.
After learning that Richard Prince had claimed #wishingpelt as his own work (and profited from it), Sean set out to re-appropriate the appropriated piece. Sean sent out a press release that invited viewers to see his work “at Gagosian, in a show organized by Richard Prince.” He put Gagosian on his resume, sent his press release out into the world and was “done with it.” But then Hyperallergic picked up the story and the article went viral.
For his current show at Denny Gallery, Sean used Richard Prince’s print from theNew Portraits show and added a second panel to create a diptych. Printed on the second panel is “Our Pictures Are For Each Other #collectiveauthorship #wishingpelt #artselfie.” This last hashtag explicitly invites viewers to photograph themselves with the piece, thus sending the image back to Instagram from whence it came.
So who deserves the credit for this body of work?
- Is it Instagram, for facilitating the sharing of photographs?
- Is it Sean, for creating#wishingpelt?
- Is it the#wishingpeltvisitor who was in the photo?
- Is it @rasfotos for sharing the photo with his followers?
- Is it Richard Prince for creating a physical piece and lending it his fame?
- Is it Hyperallergic for publicizing Sean’s work?
- Is it Sean for re-appropriating the work?
- Is it the viewers for taking and sharing #artselfies at Denny Gallery?
This piece rejects the idea that the author is dead. Instead, its title, Backdrop for the rebirth of the collective author (“There’s a Whole Lot of Authorship Going On.” – Richard Prince) declares the rise of collective authorship. It’s not about who made what, but about engaging with a larger community.