Installation view of the exhibition “L’image volée”. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani Studio

Installation view of the exhibition “L’image volée”. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani Studio


“L’image volée” means “The stolen image”, and that encompases the theme of this new group show in Milan from artist Thomas Demand. An exhibition of more than 90 works of art from the year 1820, and spanning through present day, all questioning the idea of “original thought” and “plagiarism”. It explores the idea of theft, authorship, annexation, and the idea that artists have always used and referenced existing imagery and previous artists as a reference point for creating their own. Where does the barrier lie? What is referential versus outright theft? If the use of the original artwork is artistic enough, does that make appropriation an acceptable act. Is there any way of creating completely unique art without borrowing an idea?

An even more relevant an artistic conversation in the present, with the internet and the proliferation of art and images, as well as styles and techniques making it ever more easy to poach the work of others. This is an all-consuming thought for some modern artists and their fans, and there has never been a more relevant time to ask these questions.

This exhibit from Thomas Demand is a must-see for any artist or connoisseur who concerns themselves with idea of artistic ownership and wants to explore artistic theft in depth. “L’image volée” is open to the public from the 18th of March to the 28th of August 2016. Within an exhibition architecture designed by sculptor Manfred Pernice, the show occupies both levels of the Nord gallery at Fondazione Prada in Milan.

“L’image volée” is cleaved into three separate pieces of the overarching theme. The first is the physical evidence of theft. This includes artwork that revolves around criminal ideas such as the piece from Maurizio Cattelan, “Untitled” 1991, wherein Cattelan was unable to to produce a work for an exhibition. He decided, the night before the opening, to go to the nearest police stations to report the theft of the “invisible” art. After the police officer typed up and filed the legal report, the report was then framed and installed in the gallery. Another example is Adolph von Menze’s “Friedrich der Grosse auf Reisen” (1854) from which the faces had been excised from the portrait at the end of World War II by US soldiers, but continues to be shown as though it were a complete painting.

The next section leads to the “Iconographic Poaching” section, where we see an examination of counterfeiting, adaptation, appropriation and also reproduction. These are works that have been modified or plagiarized. There are pieces such as a forged banknote reproduced by hand, the defiguration of other paintings by Asger Jorn, and work by Wangechi Mutu, who takes old medical diagrams and anatomical drawings, and collages over them. You can also see Sturtevant’s “Duchamp Man Ray Portrait” (1966) wherein the artist recreates a classic portrait taken of Duchamp by artist Man Ray, with herself as both the subject and the photographer. There’s Martin Kippenberger’s “Richter-Modell (interconti)”, 1987, which is a coffee table made from a Richter painting. Kippenberger bought one of Gerhard Richter’s grey paintings and installed it into the top of a coffee table. At the time, Kippenberger’s work did not fetch that high a price, so this not only appropriated a painting but effectively destroyed it’s value.

The final area of the exhibit turns to the question of observer and observed. This is about the theft of image in a world full of paparazzi, journalism, and surveillance. John Baldessari, with his installation piece, “Blue Line (Holbein)” (1988), places a hidden camera in one place, that produces stolen images of visitors inside an adjoining space. Photos by Trevor Paglen “Americas II, Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS-1) and Globenet (2015)”, expose the material infrastructure of mass surveillance, revealing to the naked eye the vast transoceanic system of undersea cables which are constantly transmitting sensitive data on the ocean floor.