Curatorial Projects > Copycat (2019)


A group exhibition featuring work by Libby Black, Enrique Chagoya, Kota Ezawa, Nina Katchadourian, Scott Kildall, Scott Kildall & Bryan Cera, Michael Mandiberg, Sean Peeler, Stephanie Syjuco, Charlene Tan, Chris Thorson, and Daren Wilson. With work from students in SFSU's Spring 2019 Language of Observational Painting classes taught by Libby Black and Pablo Cristi.

September 21 – October 31, 2019
Fine Arts Gallery at San Francisco State University
San Francisco, CA

Copycat explores what it means to value an original in the age of technical reproducibility and hypothesizes how original artworks themselves can be preserved through reproductions and replicas. Although artists' voices and works are highly celebrated for their creativity and uniqueness, they exist precariously in a culture that increasingly normalizes appropriation, knock-offs, and forgeries, especially on the internet and social media. Should anyone be allowed to use prior works as inspiration? Of course. Should anyone be allowed to then say that the only way they can convey their idea is to directly use the works of another? This raises a host of tougher, more complex questions.

Access to a rich public domain is key to fueling creativity and innovation. For example, the works of William Shakespeare and Ludwig van Beethoven are in the public domain. Disney's beloved animated musical The Little Mermaid is based on a fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Anderson, which also exists in the public domain. Our current legal system aims to strike a balance between protecting creators' rights in artistic property and their use by others. However, this balance has always been contested. Imagine a world in which no creative work is regulated and conversely, in which every creative work is regulated. Overprotecting artwork can be as harmful as underprotecting it.

Copycat raises questions of authorship, interrogates notions of integrity, and reflects upon shifting cultural and technological norms. Money and credibility are often tied to definitions of ownership and authenticity and how an image and its information will be used: interested parties fight over profits from an image, an individual or group fights to protect the integrity of an image from being commercially co-opted, or an artist seeks financial retribution for what they deem to be a forgery or an inappropriate use of an image. Damages are typically awarded when an appropriated or forged artwork harms the original creator either financially or by reputation.

This is a crucial moment to consider the impact of how we define originality, authenticity, truth, and identity not just in terms of artistic production, but also what it means to be an informed, engaged citizen at a time when the veracity of information is under scrutiny like never before.