In 2007, artist Takashi Murakami made the bold move of incorporating a boutique into his exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, “(c) Murakami”. It was the first time anyone had incorporated a boutique into a formal exhibit this way. The New York Times reported that “visitors were indeed snapping up the limited-edition leather goods, embellished with Mr. Murakami’s cartoon hands and Chibi Kinoko mushroom-shaped characters.”
Not everyone was thrilled by this move. The New York Times also reported one art critic as complaining, “it has turned the museum into a sort of upscale Macy’s.” However, most critics were not so upset as to take legal action. On the other hand, Clint Arthur, who actually purchased an item from the boutique-within-the-exhibit, sued Louis Vuitton in 2008.
The items sold in the boutique were supposedly limited edition, and Arthur paid $6,000 and $10,000 for two. However, these were “not created just for the exhibition, as advertised, but made of mass-produced canvas used for handbags.” He alleged that Louis Vuitton fraudulently concealed the true nature of these goods.
The U.S. District Court dismissed the claims for fraud on the ground that Arthur could have learned the truth had he actually asked, and the case reached settlement on March 3rd.
However, the LA Times reports that the settlement leaves open the question of whether Louis Vuitton is in violation of the Fine Prints Act. If so, the California attorney general, L.A.’s city attorney or the county district attorney could take further action against Louis Vuitton. This state law provides a very interesting twist by specifying disclosure requirements for the sale of prints. (Speaking of transparency in the art market …)
For now, perhaps it should be said that just because a designer handbag is in a museum does not mean that it is fine art.
Read the article at the Los Angeles Times.