Gianfranco Gorgoni’s photograph documenting the installation of Running Fence. Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni.

Photographer Sues Smithsonian and Artist Christo for Copyright Infringement

The artist Christo and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, are being sued by photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni for copyright infringement, writes Dan Duray of the Art Newspaper. Gorgoni claims he was not paid or correctly credited for his pictures of Christo’s Running Fence, a project by the artist and his wife, the late Jeanne-Claude, featuring an enormous fabric construction almost twenty-five miles long that ran through California’s Marin and Sonoma counties.

From 1972 until 1976, with Christo’s permission, the photographer documented numerous phases of the project, from start to finish, as “part of Gorgoni’s artistic practice of, in essence, making art by photographing art as it was being made by other artists,” according to the lawsuit. Christo, however, did not pay Gorgoni for his efforts. And Gorgoni never transferred the copyright for the images to the artist, which he says were created by him alone, sans Christo’s help. The photographer also states that he certified the ownership of his pictures in writing with Christo and Abrams (they were used for the 1978 book Christo: Running Fence, published by Abrams). Then, as alleged in the lawsuit, Christo “sold a series of materials to the Smithsonian related to Running Fence,” including “physical copies” of Gorgoni’s work. In the sale were also portraits Gorgoni took of the locals. And in 2010, a second book was published—with the Smithsonian—commemorating Running Fence, concurrent with an exhibition at the museum that year. Gorgoni says the show and additional book were created without his knowledge or approval. The lawsuit also states that the book for the Smithsonian’s show did not name the photographer as a member of the group that helped with Running Fence. “What Christo and the Smithsonian did was use Gorgoni’s images—works of art themselves—in a book, exhibition, and film without even telling him, much less asking his permission. That Gorgoni’s copyrights were publicly registered and acknowledged by Christo himself in a book that Christo designed (and which the Smithsonian owned) is egregious,” said John Cahill, Gorgoni’s lawyer.

Gorgoni is seeking out a jury trial and payment for damages of up to $150,000. But the artist is not especially interested in getting paid, says his lawyer. “Although Gorgoni has been forced to file a lawsuit seeking damages and injunctions, this has never been about money for him. It is truly a case of principle,” said Cahill.