On seeing “Cri,” a sculpture by Algerian-born Adel Abdessemed, you might want to call him the North African John Seward Johnson.
(Reminder: Johnson is notorious for borrowing images from iconic images and turning them into life-size sculpture).
“Cri,” showing at the David Zwirner Gallery in London, is a 3-D life-size copy of 9-year-old Kim Phuc running naked and screaming in the Pulitzer Prize news photo of children fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War by Nick Ut.
The gallery press statement freely acknowledges that Abdessemed borrows imagery, adding that the artist transforms them into “charged artistic declarations.”
Not exactly. The original news photo does that – charging like crazy the horror of war. There’s no “charge” in mimicry, especially when viewed in a posh new art gallery.
What’s up with all this knock-off statuary? I asked this two years ago when commenting on Johnson’s knock-offs. http://www.examiner.com/article/the-fine-art-of-filching-from-film-photography-and-painting“Cri” raises the question again.
One of the things Johnson is known for his 26-foot-tall “Forever Marilyn” taken from a “The Seven-Year Itch” movie-still, the one that looked under Marilyn Monroe” wind-blown skirt. Another is his 25-foot-tall “Unconditional Surrender” – taken from Albert Eisenstaedt’s photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in New York’s Times Square at the end of WWII.
As fellow art critic Robert Hughes put Johnson’s lack of originality, “It has no imaginative component that I can see and apparently appeals to dull corporate minds like his own — the sort of people who run American motels and malls.”
Not surprisingly, there was a copyright infringement lawsuit from Time, Inc., owners of Eisenstaedt’s photo. A Life spokesperson has said: “Since Time Inc. holds the copyright to that photo and the artist did not obtain our permission to create the sculpture, unfortunately the sculpture is an infringement of our copyright.”
One wonders when photographer Nick Ut or his employer The Associated Press will take notice of “Cri.”
To be fair, Abdessemed supplements “Cri” with a series of original charcoal drawings of soldiers in war. Bold and rough-hewn, as if hastily sketched, they give the impression that he was in battle with them.
Abdessemed should have stayed true to himself and filled the gallery with his own work. The world doesn’t need another John Seward Johnson.