Left: Evo Love as Lil Miss Fortune. Right: David Rohn as The Amazing Ultran.
In the immediate aftermath of this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, which for those who participated would ideally have been the time to relax and self congratulate, an ominous stirring began on the Facebook page of one Evo Love. The subject was plagiarism, the accused, Miami artist and Artlurker contributor David Rohn. Initially dismissed by staff here, the libelous accusations by Love, at first limited to comments [on Facebook] like “He’s a thief”, “He’s a sham”, and “I am in the process of exposing this fool” were elevated yesterday when the issue was mentioned in an article on artnet.com
The issue raised by Love, who like Rohn is an artist based in Miami, is that Rohn copied her idea of presenting a fortuneteller. On two occasions in 2010, Love had presented her Lil Miss Fortune act – at Stash Gallery, Miami and during the Fountain Art fair in Miami. Rohn presented his version of a fortuneteller, The Amazing Ultran, at SCOPE MIAMI 2011, one year on.
In an email entitled ‘Your Artist David Rohn is a Copy Cat’, the first of four emails sent to Miami gallerist Carol Jazzar on December 8th, Love stated “I know David Rohn […] He was inspired by me… period. He stole it… And it seems kind of odd to me that in his whole career as a performance artist – he decides to do it after he sees me do it… It’s BS. He copied everything down to my booth, the way I performed, costume & make-up, how much I charged, how I wrote the fortunes down…”
In a subsequent email she claimed “Last year David passed by Fountain Art Fair 2010 and watched me perform this piece Lil Miss Fortune on the sidelines. […] I actually saw David watching me. Those who know David, know he stands out… He’s quite the Dresser. So I recognized him immediately.”
Love says she knows Rohn, Rohn claims not. Love claims that he watched her performing Lil Miss Fortune, Rohn claims not. While there is no tangible proof to substantiate either party’s claims I have to credit the plausibility of Rohn’s denials as I too was previously unaware of Evo Love, her work and/or Stash Gallery (as too was anyone I have bored with this issue). In addition I happened to be present on every day of the Fountain Fair last year documenting WetHeat’s Hot Bed project and while I did see a fortune telling booth (actually outside the fair), not once did I see anyone manning it. So absent in fact was any sense that this was an active fortunetelling event that I was wholly convinced its inertness was an intentional comment or frustrating exercise in absenteeism, a notion reinforced by the presence of an accompanying sign that read “Closed Shit Out Of Luck”. Further more, and this seems to be important considering the accusations at hand, to the best of my knowledge Rohn had not considered developing the character of a fortuneteller until my wife and I asked him to perform as one for the Transit Antenna fundraiser held in Miami’s Design District in April this year. Leading up to the event I worked closely with David to develop his character – Madame Plotsky, a female clairvoyant based on London Esotericist Madame Blavatsky – right down to how he would solicit clients, how much he would charge, and what he would wear. We even loaned him tarot cards and helped him set up his booth.
I obviously know David and am therefore biased and I certainly do not seek to use this website to further my own or anyone’s agendas so there seems little point me defending him as a character witness, however, I do feel justified in stating that that Rohn has consistently, over the course of many years, created archetypes through the medium of performance that actively engage his audiences. Had I not helped him to develop this one, I would say that it was an inevitable progression of a substantial oeuvre.
So what is there left to discuss? Originality in art? Something so fundamentally moot is hardly worth addressing, is it? What seems more pertinent a subject is not that one should or should not feel that they have been ripped off, but how one deals with that feeling. There seems to be no system in place to accurately discern innocence or guilt in such cases and as a result, those who feel wronged often seek the validation of popular opinion, and a media war ensues. And that seems to be what is happening here. Love has clearly chosen to attack Rohn; emailing his associates, rallying support on social networking websites and even possibly soliciting coverage of the dispute. But ultimately, you have to ask yourself “Why?” In this case it seems that neither artist particularly stands to benefit from having the monopoly on fortunetelling in Miami, and I can’t believe that other people subsequently performing as fortunetellers could do much damage to Love’s career in anyway. Nor do I credit the notion that Rohn’s career would stand to benefit inequitably from copying Love. The catalyst for this present, unfortunate circumstance then seems to be hurt pride on Love’s part, and maybe a little hunger for recognition disguised somewhat vainly as a righteous exercise in artistic justice. It must sting to see someone doing your thing a year later, but can the assumption that you have been plagiarized be justified and either way is it good form to shout thief so vehemently? Sure there are obvious, unavoidable parallels between the two ‘works’ but we are not really talking about the works are we? We’re talking about the event, the idea. And despite actually being able to own the rights to an idea, no one can really own an idea, can they? Especially something as culturally rooted and frankly played out as a fortuneteller. I mean you don’t see McDonalds bashing Burger King. But a recipe – ingredients and the way something is prepared – is something different all together, that said, although I saw neither performance, I am sure they each had a unique, if not ‘acquired’ taste[.]
This post was contributed by Thomas Hollingworth.