A huge inflatable bust of ancient Egyptian king Tutankhamun on display at a Hong Kong shopping centre as part of this year’s Art Basel has been found to be available for custom orders without the artist’s knowledge on Chinese online shopping platform Taobao.
One vendor was selling what appeared to be exact replicas of Gravity, the 10-metre tall piece designed by American artist Awol Erizku, for as low as 520 yuan (US$75.50), prompting a warning about copyright infringement by his representative.
“This is a unique work of art by Awol Erizku and copyright sits with the artist,” Ben Brown Fine Arts, who represents the artist, said in a statement. “Any infringement of the artist’s intellectual property will be thoroughly investigated and if such infringement is found true, appropriate actions will be taken.”
The vendor was Guangzhou-based company Bingo Inflatables, which manufactures goods such as Christmas decorations and advertising displays.
On Taobao, the price for the replica ranged from 520 yuan to 28,800 yuan, while the size of the product matched the specifications of the original work, and the listing included photos that appeared identical to those shared by Erizku on his official Instagram account.
The contractor hired to make Gravity confirmed to the Post that the manufacturing was outsourced to Bingo Inflatables.
The Post reached out to Bingo Inflatables for comment. An employee who answered the phone said over messaging platform WeChat that the artwork was a customised product and that they needed the permission of the customer to sell it.
Follow-up questions went unanswered. The Post was subsequently blocked and the listing was taken down.
It was unclear how long the listing had been up on Taobao.
Art Basel, the annual contemporary art fair, did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
“Copyright and appropriation is still a big topic nowadays, especially in the digital world,” said Jeremy Ip, founder of Wure Area, an independent art gallery in Hong Kong.
Ip said although it was hard to track counterfeits and copies of artwork, the original would always maintain its importance as it was presented alongside the artist’s own “shareable perspectives and attitudes”.
Gravity, which is available for viewing at Pacific Place in Admiralty, is part of Art Basel’s Encounters series featuring large-scale installations.
According to a profile on the annual fair’s website, Erizku began conceptualising the piece before the coronavirus pandemic, and he designed it specifically for display in Hong Kong.
Erizku was born in Ethiopia and studied fine arts at The Cooper Union in New York. His work has been exhibited in cities across the world, from Los Angeles to Dublin and Hangzhou.
Gravity is available for viewing until April 2.