Update on Joel Sternfeld and Luhring Augustine

Joel Sternfeld Attorney with laundry 1988

NOTE: This is a follow-up to the preceding post.

This morning it was made clear to me that Joel Sternfeld himself had nothing to do with the contretemps over the recently-published Idiom piece, "The Portrait of a Lawyer", and it appears that his New York gallery, Luhring Augustine, however good its intentions may have been, was not only overreaching in its representation of the claims of copyright, but also misrepresenting its artist client.

Prior to the publication of the article the author, Sam Biederman, and the editor, Stephen Squibb, had been looking all over the net and elsewhere for the image central to Biederman's piece, eventually contacting Luhring Augustine. With the wisdom of hindsight it seems they had good reason to have begun elsewhere in their search.

The gallery replied that neither it nor Joel Sternfeld had an image in their possession. When the piece was published, having been frustrated in the unsuccessful pursuit of the original objective, Squibb substituted an image of another work by the artist. It had been found on line, and originated on the site of another gallery, one which also represented the artist.

When Luhring Augustine saw the published Idiom article and image, the editor was contacted and told he was not permitted to show any Sternfeld image without the approval of the artist. Curiously, even after telling the editor to remove it, the gallery's message critiqued the choice of that particular alternative image as unsuitable for the article.

When Squibb wrote back, offering to exchange the picture for another, Luhring Augustine's reply was that no picture would be supplied or permitted. The email continued: ". . . the artist does not particularly agree with the opinions expressed in [the article] and does not wish to grant copyright permission for his image to be reproduced in conjunction with the piece.. " We were then told to remove the image,
". . . as the artist wishes."

The assertions about the artist's wishes don't appear to represent the facts.

Luhring Augustine does seem to have asked Sternfeld if he had the image Idiom originally requested, but it doesn't appear that the artist had been told anything else. This morning I received an email from Sternfeld himself. It was extraordinarily gracious, especially considering how hard I had come down yesterday on what I thought had been his response to Idiom's request.

In his email the artist denied that he had requested the image be taken down and wrote that he would have been pleased to furnish an image of the "barefoot attorney" if he had one (or had been given more time to find one). He added that he thought the piece itself was thoughtful and that he was "grateful" to read it.

He finished, before extending good wishes to everyone involved with the article, by addressing a part of Sam Biederman's memoir specifically, adding the artist's own playful thoughts on the photograph he had taken of the author's father many years back:

I wish [Sam] had considered as a possible reading my intention to to point out  that regardless of societal role one's feet can hurt at the end of the day and the temptation to kick off shoes and socks may prove irresistible.

The image which served as a stand-in for the one Idiom originally sought, appearing at the top of the Idiom post when it was published and later pulled, has now returned to the site. The jpeg used was found on MoMA's site.

Me, I went looking for another lawyer, and quickly found "Attorney with laundry".

[image from hotshoeinternational]