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Paint By Numbers

from Portfolio

Repro Man

by Michael Kaplan  October 2008 Issue


The opening night of “©Murakami,” Takashi Murakami’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, outshone the standard high- culture shindig. Luxury-goods giant Louis Vuitton, whose Murakami-designed purses, wallets, and scarves have helped propel the brand, subsidized the $1,000-a-plate gala. Kanye West performed, and the guest list—from Tobey Maguire to Christina Ricci—read like that of an Oscar-night fete. Outside, fireworks exploded.At the exhibit, revelers shopped at a temporary Louis Vuitton boutique, the first of its kind, selling lv-monogrammed bags and wallets that had been Murakamied with squat-faced cartoon characters. That Vuitton had set up a retail shop in a museum was unusual enough, but equally notable were the artworks Vuitton was selling: 500 “limited- edition” prints priced at either $6,000 or $10,000.By any definition, sales were brisk. Hundreds of prints were snatched up by fans of the goateed artist. The trouble started when one of them, collector Clint Arthur, noticed that two of his Murakamis weren’t numbered, even though the accompanying certificates said they were. (Limited-edition works usually bear both the artist’s signature and a number to help establish authenticity and value.) The discrepancy was “a translation problem between Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami,” Arthur says a salesclerk told him.

But when Arthur wrote Murakami asking that the proper numbers be added, he received an answer from the legal department of Louis Vuitton North America. If Arthur was dissatisfied with his purchase, the letter said, he could return the artwork and be refunded his money plus interest. 

But Arthur wanted to keep the pieces and have them numbered. Surfing the internet, he discovered a California law stating that dealers who willfully provide certificates of authenticity that contain incorrect information are liable for damages that total three times the cost of the print. He filed a class-action lawsuit against Vuitton, arguing that the company intentionally tried to pass off faulty documentation. While he was at it, Arthur slapped MOCA with a suit charging that the museum breached the same statute by selling Murakami prints without certificates in its gift shop. 

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Posted on October 8, 2008 by Editor

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