Jeff Koons accused of plagiarising iconic French advertising campaign for multi-million-pound sculpture

The American artist Jeff Koons was on Monday accused in a Paris court of plagiarising an iconic French clothing advertisement for one of his celebrated sculptures, Fait d’Hiver.

Advertising creative director Franck Davidovici sued Mr Koons, among the world’s most bankable living artists, for €300,000 (£270,000) for copyright infringement, saying he had produced what his lawyer called a “servile copy” of a famous advertising campaign he ran in 1985 for French clothing brand Naf-Naf.

The clothing campaign showed a young girl lying in snow, apparently the victim of an avalanche, being nosed by a pig with a barrel of rum under its neck in reference to the famous Saint Bernard rescue dogs. Naf-Naf is the name of one of the three little pigs that made the most resilient house out of bricks.

Mr Koon’s artwork, which was bought by the Prada Foundation for around $3.7 million (£2.8m) at Christie’s in New York in 2007, depicts a large pig and a tiny penguin with the bust of a woman lying in a fishnet top revealing her breasts.

“It’s the same work in three dimensions, to which Jeff Koons has added flowers and a penguin to evoke cold, with the aim of sticking to the original work. The statement is strictly the same,” said Mr Davidovici’s lawyer, Jean Aittouares.

The work and the campaign even share the same name of Fait d’Hiver – a play on the French term for a short news item "fait divers”.

Mr Davidovici said he had only become aware of Mr Koon’s sculpture when he saw in a catalogue ahead of a planned 2014 exhibition at Paris’ Pompidou Centre, which is also being sued along with Prada and French publisher Flammarion, which reproduced pictures of the sculpture.

The sculpture was pulled from the 2014 exhibition but the president of the Pompidou Centre, Alain Seban, defended the artist, arguing that "similar questions" had already been raised in America about other works from Mr Koons’s Banality sculpture series, "the very principle of which is to draw on objects bought in shops or images seen in the press".

"It is essential that museums be able to continue to give an account of these artistic endeavours," he had said.

This is by no means the first time Mr Koons has been taken to court for copyright infringement.

In the latest case, a Paris court last year ordered the American artist’s limited company, Jeff Koons LLC, to pay the heirs of late French photographer Jean-François Bauret  €40,000, saying Naked, his porcelain sculpture of two naked children produced in 1988, had been copied from a 1975 postcard picture taken by Mr Bauret called Enfants.

The court also found the Pompidou Centre guilty of using an image of the work in the advertising material for their Koons retrospective in 2014.

The artist is no stranger to controversy in Paris. 

Earlier this year, Françoise Nyssen, the French culture minister, announced that a sculpture of a giant bunch of tulips Mr Koons gave the city in remembrance of the 2015 Paris terror attacks victims would not be installed in front of the capital’s Museum of Modern Art and the Palais de Tokyo, after outcry.

Initially welcomed by Paris city hall, the work sparked a row with 23 figures from France’s art and culture world denouncing the choice of a prime, central location for such a massive structure, saying that the museums had no symbolic connection with the Paris attacks.

They also said that while Mr Koons was a "brilliant and inventive" artist in the 1980s, he had since become a symbol of "industrial", assembly-line art.

Ms Nyssen pledged to find a home for the multi-coloured sculpture at a location that was "popular, visible and shared by everyone”.

Leave a Reply