Grossman LLP | The Role of a "Studio Assistant" Comes Under Fire in Spanish Lawsuit
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  • The Role of a "Studio Assistant" Comes Under Fire in Spanish Lawsuit
    Spanish pop artist Antonio De Felipe, sometimes referred to as the “Spanish Andy Warhol,” is under fire due to accusations by his former studio assistant that he is selling her works as his own.  Fumiko Negishi, an artist who worked as De Felipe’s studio assistant from 2006 to February of this year, has brought a lawsuit against him claiming that she painted 221 canvases signed by De Felipe.

    De Felipe is best known for his 1990s series of pop culture sculptures using the Laughing Cow motif.  According to Negishi, during her work for De Felipe, she painted canvases in a workshop at the rear of his studio, out of view of clients. Negishi claims she made works from scratch based on sketches De Felipe had given her created by Photoshop.  These sketches were allegedly just a starting point for the works, which she created and executed using her own artistic style.  Negishi claims De Felipe did nothing more than add his signature to the works.

    In response, De Felipe contends that Negishi is seeking revenge after being let go this year for financial reasons.  He confirms that, while Negishi assisted in her role as his studio assistant, the intellectual authorship of the works is all his.  Negishi is seeking an admission by De Felipe to purchasers that she authored, or at least co-authored the works, and asks De Felipe to rectify all statements in the media where he claimed to be the sole author.  Notably, at this time does not seek any financial damages.

    This suit may provide an important window into the commonly used practice in the art world of employing studio assistants in creating works.  This case highlights questions concerning authenticity of a work where it was created by the artist, the assistant, or both.  The question becomes, how much control must an artist have over a piece to make it his own?