Maurizio Cattelan wins his legal battle against his disgruntled manufacturer. But for some, key questions remain unanswered

A court in Paris has dismissed a lawsuit brought by French sculptor Daniel Druet, who was seeking credit as the creator of nine wax figures he was commissioned to make for Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan.

However, there is disagreement as to whether the ruling leaves in doubt the core issue of the case: whether a manufacturer can legitimately claim authorship of a work of art commissioned by an artist.

On July 8, the judges announced their decision electronically in the closely followed caseat which French lawyers debated the importance of conceptual art and the recognition of assistants contributing to artworks under the direction of a single author.

“The question of authorship – even validity – of art … is at the heart of this dispute,” wrote a group of more than 60 artists, including Annette Messager, Sophie Calle and Chris Dercon, in an editorial in support of Cattelan, who publishes in became Le Monde in May.

Druet, 80, said he was never rightly credited as the creator of some of Cattelan’s most famous works, created between 1999 and 2006, for which both parties acknowledged he was paid. He almost searched 5 million euros ($5.25 million) in compensation. Among the sculptures he created was a wax model of the Pope shattered by a meteorite Nona Ora.

But the Paris intellectual property court ruled that Druet’s lawsuit was “inadmissible” because he never directly sued Cattelan himself, only the Italian artist gallery Perrotin and the Museum Monnaie de Paris, which displayed Cattelan’s work from 2016-2017. Druet was also sentenced to pay 10,000 to the Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery and the Monnaie de Paris.

“It is with great satisfaction that I learn of this decision, which establishes Maurizio Cattelan’s work as a conceptual artist and rejects in every respect Daniel Druet’s inadmissible and unfounded arguments. I am pleased that this decision ends this controversy that has threatened a large number of contemporary artists,” Emmanuel Perrotin said in a statement.

In addition to denying Druet’s request, the judges also confirmed that the installation and scenography of the wax models in question “dated from [Cattelan] only Daniel Druet is incapable of taking even the slightest part in the decisions regarding the scenic setting of the said effigies” or “the content of the possible message to be conveyed through this staging”. This observation, uncontested by either side, means that Druet cannot be credited as the sole author of the completed artworks, which necessarily includes their conceptual installation by Cattelan.

Galerie Perrotin echoed this sentiment, saying that “this decision represents landmark jurisprudence as judges for the first time enshrine conceptual art in a landmark judgment”.

“Beyond this court decision, it is conceptual art that is now protected by the rule of law,” added the gallery’s attorneys Pierre-Yves Gautier and Pierre-Olivier Sur.

However, Druet’s attorney Jean-Baptiste Bourgeois told Artnet News that the court never addressed the central issue of authorship in its ruling, dismissing Druet’s claim for circumventing Cattelan rather than suing him so he could defend himself.

“I am disappointed with this verdict, which I believe is open to challenge on several levels. The judges brushed the debate aside with baseless arguments,” Bourgeois told Artnet News over the phone. Indeed, as early as February 2000, the same intellectual property court, headed by various judges, ruled that Druet’s lawsuit was admissible.

The judges “did not even open the file” and accepted the counter-argument because “[we] didn’t call Cattelan, everything [we’re] asking goes in the trash,” Bourgeois said. “We haven’t made any progress in the debate itself.”

As for the court’s opinion that Druet’s played no part in the dramatic installation of the wax sculptures, Bourgeois insisted that his client never claimed to have authored these works in their entirety. Rather, he said, Druet believes he is the author of only one component – the wax models – used in Cattelan’s conceptual artworks.

“We do not claim that Daniel Druet Cattelan said that little Hitler [from the work Him] should be placed or positioned in a certain way … that is not Druet’s concern at all,” said Bourgeois. Claims to the contrary, the lawyer added, are “lies”.

In a bid to clear up the apparent confusion over what Druet is asking for in the first place, the judges noted that while Druet “did not dispute” his lack of involvement in the installation of the works, it “must be understood” what he wants as ” “exclusive” author of the nine works as shown in their entirety, effectively denying Cattelan any role Cattelan played at any point in their creation.

“Once [Druet] not limiting his claim for rights to the wax figures only… but calling them the name with which these works were unveiled, without further specification, it must be understood that M. Druet is requesting authorship of the works as soon as they are unveiled to the public , ie after a specific installation,” according to the jury.

In a July 11 editorial, the editor-in-chief of the French-language art newspaperPhilippe Régnier wrote: “The least we can say is that [the judge’s ruling on July 8] does not regulate anything because it dismissed the plaintiff on the grounds of not involving Maurizio Cattelan in the case… This decision could lead to a new lawsuit directly affecting the Italian artist. This serial drama is still a long way from having revealed its outcome.”

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