ART CRIMES: French Artist Orlan Sues Lady Gaga

Gaga vs Orlan

Gaga vs Orlan

ARTINFO recently spoke with attorney for French artist Orlan, Philippe Dutilleul-Francoeur, an art market attorney, to discuss a suit his client has filed against Lady Gaga for $31.5 million. Orlan’s attorney claims that the American pop star borrowed from her work without permission or even a discussion with the artist.

Philippe said to ARTINFO, “We are suing the American singer in Paris civil court for forging two works by Orlan… the sculpture Bumpload (1989), which is extremely similar to the cover of Lady Gaga’s album “Born This Way”… and Woman With Head (1996), which was used by Lady Gaga in the first seconds of her video for “Born This Way.” In it we see the singer’s head placed on Plexiglas and surrounded with decapitated heads, like Orlan’s head in Woman With Head… we’re not attacking Lady Gaga for having copied Orlan’s look, which is an ethical and not a legal issue. We’re accusing her of having forged her artworks, that is, of reproducing them illegally. Every original work of art has a very strict protocol for how it can be used. That is part of intellectual property law.”


Side by side comparisons of the works and people in question, by National Post and Nick Socrates let you decide. The artist Orlan has inserted implants into her actual face, as you can see by the cover photo, but is she the first to insert subdermal implants? Does she hold a copyright on this look?


Side by side images of Woman With Head (1996) by Orlan, and a still of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” video probably show a more convincing case for having borrowed inspiration, but only when compared to the other piece she is accused of ripping off do you really begin to find any connection. Is this coincidence, or an act of intellectual theft worth 7.5% of Lady Gaga’s profits on the project, or $31.5 million?

This is not the first time Gaga has been accused of ripping off artists. Canadian-Ukranian artist Taras Polataiko, claimed Lady Gaga took his Sleeping Beauty concept to create her Lady Gaga Sleeping at the Guggenheim performance piece. In that instance Polataiko’s exhibition closed days before Gaga’s exhibit. Taras said to Hyperallergic about the controversy,”When artists like Andy Warhol and Richard Prince appropriate pop imagery, it makes you think about the nature of art, images, and their circulation and hierarchy… When pop culture appropriates the work of an artist, there’s nothing left to think about. It’s just sad. It vulgarizes the beauty and the gentle complexity of art. It dumbs it down.”

Some may say how lucky any of these artists are that have been “ripped off” by anyone well known. It means someone is paying attention to your work. Some may say that none of them are really complaining, but ensuring that the publicity that they get from these spectacles has as much impact as possible. Orlan is only one of the many artists, musical and visual, that according to critics, Lady Gaga referenced for the project. The rest need to figure out their portion of the remaining 92.5% of the work she spent developing for months.