The art scene is slow in Zurich this time of year, like everywhere else. But there’s always room for a little controversy. Last weekend’s concerned the newly established Splügen-Gallery (all text in German), where the business model runs thus: You give them an image of an artwork, and they have it painted for you in Shenzhen Dafen, China, at whatever dimensions you like. The cost? Roughly $450-$900, frame included.
The eclectic first show features works “by” Gustav Klimt, Roy Lichtenstein and Tamara de Lempicka. Naturally, Pro Litteris, the Swiss artists-rights association, objects strongly, arguing that “to reproduce an image you need permission from the artist or their representative.” The gallery’s owner, Chris Rüegg, counters that he’s checked with his lawyers and it’s all perfectly legal.
One thing’s sure: Given the predicted vector of the Chinese contemporary-art scene, Splügen customers might do well to inquire precisely who painted their duped Picasso, Prince, Weischer, or Wool, and keep that name in their bank vault. After all, Western art history is full of people who went from doing commercial art to being canonized artists. Just look at the recent prices for Warhol sketches from his illustrator days.