A painting by the artist Gala (Vitoria, 1984) that is exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao shows the image of a young black man with a cowboy hat who stares at the camera. It is an image traced to a frame from the short film Blue , directed in 2022 by the American dayday and in which he narrates the experiences of a black rider in the art of rodeo. The resemblance of the works has unleashed a storm on social networks, where accusations of plagiarism and criticism have been made for not including in the credits a reference to the film from which the image of the cowboy was taken.
The controversy was resolved this Tuesday by mutual agreement between all the parties concerned. The Guggenheim, the curators of the exhibition and the artists dayday have agreed that the film Blue will be exhibited together with the canvases of the exhibition, as it is a “source of inspiration” for the creation of Young Cowboy and Young Cowboy Looking (2022). Knörr has agreed to include a “constructive rectification” alongside his work in which he acknowledges that his painting is inspired by the dayday film .
Knörr’s oil is part of the exhibition entitled Basque Artists Program 2015-2019that the Guggenheim opened on July 8 with the works of 10 Basque artists participating in the five editions of this initiative sponsored by the museums of Bilbao and New York and which is aimed at emerging creators born or resident in Euskadi. The exhibition, curated by Lucía Agirre and Geaninne Gutiérrez-Guimarães, describes the work of the artist from Vitoria as a vindication of the figure of the cowboy, who has been extolled in advertising, cinema and the media as one of the symbols of American popular culture, but which, according to the author, “hides an important part of its history, since its origin lies in colonialism and in the mixture of races, cultures and origins”.
The two images—one pictorial, the other animated—have many similarities. There are differences between the two: Blue ‘s sequence is shot in pale tones, while the painting has much more vivid colors. Social networks, especially Instagram, have echoed Young Cowboy looking in critical terms, with qualifiers such as “blatant scam” for its analogy with one of the initial shots shot by dayday, who defines himself as “an American multidisciplinary artist” queerand black.” Knörr was inspired by the cowboy played by the young Isaac Redfearn to create the pictorial portrait. The messages demanding the inclusion of a reference in the credits to dayday’s work happened last weekend and opened a long thread of debate about the copying of original works.
The explanatory review of Young cowboy looking that appears on the Guggenheim Museum website has been modified to include a clarification that aims to deal with the controversy that has arisen. It is said in the new text that in the painting of the young cowboy “Gala Knörr directly incorporates images inspired by the 5-minute film Blue” and created specifically for the Hulu platform series Your Attention Please (2022), where he offers “a portrait intimate of the bull rider Ezekiel Blue Mitchell and the legacy of black American cowboys ”.
“In a recent constructive rectification made with dayday, in which it is recognized that Knörr avoided the dayday film as inspiration for her painting, the Basque artist wishes to highlight the artistic contribution of dayday, which highlights the elimination of the legacy of cowboys African-Americans in the development of the American West and sheds light on the complex narratives around racism in this specific topic of American history”, says the new text that has been agreed by Knörr and by dayday.
In the specification that accompanies the oil painting, it is added: “Knörr investigates, recovers and reinterprets some of these forgotten figures as part of his research project on the iconography of popular culture in the post-internet era.”
Gala Knörr, also a “multidisciplinary artist” who dominates painting, installation and writing, has not wanted to publicly participate in the controversy. The text mentioned above speaks of her for her, say Guggenheim sources. This newspaper has tried to obtain her opinion without success. The artist from Alava graduated from Parsons Paris, obtained a master’s degree in Fine Arts from Central Saint Martins and completed her training with workshops and classes under the direction of various authors, in addition to conducting artistic residencies at Tabakalera (San Sebastián) and other cultural centers.