Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chiluly: NY Times Unintentional Comedy rating of 9.6

The NY Times ran an absolutely hysterical article about Dave Chihuly today, the Seattle based artist responsible for those hideous glass sculptures that you see in office lobbies everywhere. It's so good, I feel the need to comment at length:

Glass Artists Face Off in Court
By TIMOTHY EGAN

SEATTLE, May 31 — As an ever-moving maestro in the world where fine art and commerce converge, Dale Chihuly is perhaps the world's most successful glass artist.

What does "ever-moving maestro" mean? That Chihuly is, um, alive and breathing?

His clients include Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, and his elaborate installations of sea gardens and flower clusters show that mere sand transformed by fire can elevate a casino ceiling to the level of gallery spectacle.

Anyone surprised to find out Gates and Clinton have no taste? Anyone? (By the way, the casino ceiling referred to is the Bellagio. If you've ever stayed at the Bellagio under the illusion it's classy, my sincere apologies. The place is a monument to bad taste.)

But now Mr. Chihuly is in the midst of a hard-edged legal fight in federal court here over the distinctiveness of his creations and, more fundamentally, who owns artistic expression in the glass art world.

Nice. Legal battle -- we're on my turf.

Mr. Chihuly has sued two glass blowers, including a longtime collaborator, for copyright infringement, accusing them of imitating his signature lopsided creations, and other designs inspired by the sea.

"Designs inspired by the sea"? "Signature lopsided creations"? Hmm, sounds like a surefire loser. But maybe there's more to the story.

"About 99 percent of the ocean would be wide open," Mr. Chihuly said in an interview. "Look, all I'm trying to do is to prevent somebody from copying me directly."

Hmm, so Chiluly claims rights to 1% of the ocean. Let's see:

World's ocean volume : 1340 million km³(from wikipedia)
One percent of world's ocen volume = 13.4 million km³ (from simple math)

That's more than the total area of the United States. The ego on this guy.

The glass blowers say that Mr. Chihuly is trying to control entire forms, shapes and colors and that his brand does not extend to ancient and evolving techniques derived from the natural world.

Ancient techniques existed for creating hideous eyesores for the Bellagio?

"Just because he was inspired by the sea does not mean that no one else can use the sea to make glass art," said Bryan Rubino, the former acolyte named in the suit who worked for Mr. Chihuly as a contractor or employee for 14 years. "If anything, Mother Nature should be suing Dale Chihuly."

Nice. This comment makes no sense at all, but I like the idea of Mother Nature impleading into the action as the real-party-in-interest.

The suit, rare in art circles, offers a sometimes unflattering glimpse at how high-powered commercial artists like Mr. Chihuly work. The two glass blowers say that he has very little to do with much of the art, and that he sometimes buys objects and puts the Chihuly name on them, a contention that Mr. Chihuly strongly denies.

He acknowledges that he has not blown glass for 27 years, dating from a surfing accident that cost him the full range of shoulder motion, an injury that struck three years after he had lost sight in his left eye in a traffic accident.

Jesus Christ, how big of a klutz is Dave Chihuly?

Still, Mr. Chihuly said, he works with sketches, faxes and through exhortation. Nothing with his name on it ever came from anyone but himself, he said.

Wait, what? He works with faxes? Through exhortation? What the hell does that mean? Surely, the NY Times isn't going to buy this garbage, is it?

Andrew Page, editor of Glass: The Urban Glass Art Quarterly, which is published in New York, said that Mr. Chihuly deserved a high place in the pantheon of glass artists, but that the suit could hurt his reputation by igniting countercharges and opening a window into how a celebrity artist works on a mass scale.

There is a quarterly magazine devoted to Urban Glass Art. We will pause now while I go shove a potato peeler into my eye.

"I think Dale Chihuly is a pure original," Mr. Page said. "He has a tremendous sense of color and composition. And he has done a tremendous amount for the field. But this lawsuit may have been the worst thing he could have done."

A tremendous amount for the field? Did the field even exist before Chihuly? For that matter, can it even be described as a "field" along side, I don't know, impressionism or pottery? URBAN GLASS BLOWING???

A butcher's son from hardscrabble Tacoma, Mr. Chihuly, 64, operates out of a cavernous boathouse on Lake Union with a split-tree table inside that seats 200 and a lap pool with a riotous sprouting of glass objects beneath a clear floor.

"Hardscrabble" Tacoma? What does that mean? Is that even a word? I mean, a word that people actually use?

The artist has 93 employees, part of a veritable fine art factory called Chihuly Inc. When celebrities like Robin Williams or Colin L. Powell visit Seattle, the boathouse is often the sole stop they want to make.

Robin, Colin, please join Bill and Bill on the list of "Celebrities the NY Times just outed as having white-trash taste."

Mr. Chihuly said he had no choice but to use the courts to try to eliminate "knockoffs" by people trying to profit from his empire.

"This lawsuit is not about money," he said, puttering around the boathouse in paint-splattered shoes with a lawyer and publicity agent in tow. "It's about what is fair. There are a million forms you can make that don't look like mine."

A couple of observations on this passage:

-- Chihuly works with glass, not paint, though even then only through "faxes" and "exhortation" due to his mishaps with a surfboard and traffic
-- No grown man should be described as "puttering."

In a 2003 copyright case involving glass art, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled against an artist who said another artist had used his design of jellyfish encased in glass. The two designs looked similar, but the court said no one could copyright nature.

The case the NY Times refers to is Savata v. Lowry. The Ninth Circuit held that artist Savata, who apparently was really into making glass jellyfish sculptures, could not prevent another artist from making glass jellyfish sculptures:

Satava may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish with tendril-like tentacles or rounded bells, because many jellyfish possess those body parts. He may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish in bright colors, because many jellyfish are brightly colored. He may not prevent others from depicting jellyfish swimming vertically, because jellyfish swim vertically in nature and often are depicted swimming vertically.

Brilliant legal minds at work here.

There's more, but I think you get the gist.

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