NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jeff Koons, a U.S. pop artist whose works can fetch millions, is facing allegations he used a New York photographer’s commercial photo from the 1980s in a painting without permission or compensation, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday.
The photographer, Mitchel Gray, said in the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court that Koons reproduced his photo, which depicts a man sitting beside a woman painting on a beach with an easel, “nearly unchanged and in its entirety.”
Gray is also suing New York-based auction house Phillips Auctioneers and an as-yet-unnamed former owner of the Koons print, which sold for $2.04 million in London in 2008.
Neither Koons nor his agent in New York could immediately be reached on Monday.
Phillips Auctioneers’ spokesman Michael Sherman said in an email: “(W)e are confident that Phillips has no liability in this matter.”
Koons, one of the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists, is best known for his colorful paintings, monumental reflective sculptures and inflatable flowers.
His work “Balloon Dog (Orange)” sold for $58.4 million in 2013, the highest price for a living artist’s work sold at auction.
Gray’s photo was published in an advertisement for Gordon’s Dry Gin in 1986. Later that year, the complaint alleged, Koons reproduced the photo in a painting called “I Could Go For Something Gordon’s.” It was part of a series of liquor-themed paintings called “Luxury and Degradation.”
Gray did not discover Koons’ work until July this year, the complaint said.
There is a three-year statute of limitations on copyright actions, but “the clock doesn’t start ticking until the plaintiff learns of the infringement,” his lawyer, Jordan Fletcher, of the law firm Kushnirsky Gerber said in an interview.
Gray is seeking unspecified damages and any profits the defendants received from the suspected infringement. He said he also deserved punitive damages because the infringement was willful.
Koons “knew, or should have known, that he was required to obtain an artist’s permission before he could lawfully copy a work by that artist,” the lawsuit said.