By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Sometimes it's not so easy to pinpoint specific influences. Is Philip Johnson's Glass House a rip-off of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House? Can one say Eero Saarinen's 1947 Gateway Arch in Saint Louis mimics Le Corbusier's 1921 design for his Palace of the Soviets? Most lounge chairs designed after Le Corbusier's Model B306 are variations on a theme, yet there's no doubt the French architect was influenced by Thonet's 1880 Rocking Chair.
What makes for an influence -- an image or a concept? If Antonio Gaudí's and Hector Guimard's buildings look similar, it is not because they copied each other. Rather they shared similar aesthetic concerns, one of which was how to abstract and "modernize" medieval forms.
I think it's okay, even auspicious, for contemporaries to share elements and stylistic concerns. Think of the commonalities between Fauvism and Expressionism, Picasso's style with the Abstract Expressionists, David Siqueiros's and José Clemente Orozco's murals, Salvador Dali's and Ives Tanguy's landscapes, Arshile Gorky's and Roberto Matta's styles in the Forties, and later, Wifredo Lam's and Matta's styles in the early Fifties.
Another interesting and unusual development is that, as a result of the controversy, a group of artists decided to contribute their views for a show titled "Barquito de papel: Mi amigo fiel" ("Little Paper Boat: My Loyal Friend") at Domingo Padrón Art Gallery in Coral Gables. Each artist's work contains a paper-boat image, a way of communicating the idea that the symbol belongs to everyone and to no one.
Of the works, I liked those devoid of didacticism, such as Elio Villate's painting of a huge wash basin from which a bizarre neighborhood rises, all of it underwater (it's something out of a City of the Lost Childrenmovie set); and Edwin Gutierrez's Proa al Norte (Going North), a painting of a paper boat made of passport pages and lying amid a bunch of crumbled paper flags. Cedey de Jesús Rojas's Testament of a Ship is a sort of conceptual double entendre: A previously folded white paper sheet has each corner held to a black surface with transparent tape to give the illusion it's painted.
Are these artists overreacting? Yes and no. French semiologist Roland Barthes once advocated the idea of déjà lu ("already read") to illustrate that works of art and literature are more like rearrangements of signs already circulating in society than "pure inventions" of creative genius. Of course, that doesn't mean Barthes gave up royalties from his numerous books. For his part, Leonel Matheu has vowed to hire an attorney to protect his interests.
I think David Salle (a notorious appropriation artist) nails the issue of originality when he says, "Originality is in what you choose -- what you choose and how you choose to present it."