Contemporary Art Biennale

Specialist called in on Jeff Dieschburg plagiarism case

Spot the difference: Jingna Zhang’s photo of model Ji Hye Park, left, and part of Jeff Dieschburg’s Turnadot diptych, right.  Jingna Zhang/Jeff Dieschburg – collage Maison Moderne

Spot the difference: Jingna Zhang’s photo of model Ji Hye Park, left, and part of Jeff Dieschburg’s Turnadot diptych, right.  Jingna Zhang/Jeff Dieschburg – collage Maison Moderne

Luxembourg artist Jeff Dieschburg, who won a €1,500 prize at the Contemporary Art Biennale in Strassen, has been accused of copyright infringement by US-based Singaporean artist and photographer Jingna Zhang.

A copyright infringement controversy over a work on display at the Strassen Contemporary Art Biennale has led the jury of the event to consult a specialist in the matter.

The move follows allegations from Singaporean artist and photographer Jingna Zhang, who currently works in the United States, that a work by Luxembourg art student Jeff Dieschburg ripped off one of her photos. The photo was one of a series she shot with model Ji Hye Park for the cover of Harper's Bazaar Vietnam.

Zhang, who was listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia in 2018, said that when confronted with her accusation on social media, Dieschburg “then tried to mansplain copyright infringement to me.”

Indeed, in his reply to Zhang, Dieschburg does not deny that his work, titled Turandot after the Puccini opera, was inspired by her “artistic choices” such as the posture of the model but claims that he “created an image in an artisanal way” that was different. “As a figurative painter it is obvious that I need reference material…” Dieschburg wrote. The painting based on Zhang’s work is part of a diptych, with the other half a self-portrait of the artist.

It was one of the pieces that won Dieschburg the €1,500 Prix d’Encouragement for emerging artists at this year’s Contemporary Art Biennale. President of the jury, Betty Welter-Gaul, had said in a statement when the prizes were announced on 20 May that she was “particularly pleased that this year’s Prix d’Encouragement was awarded to an artist from the town of Strassen.”

Dieschburg has said that the use of other people’s work is a “common strategy” in the art world. “I am still a student. I need references to transcribe the world around me,” he told L’essentiel. But according to  one Twitter user who visited the Strassen exhibition on Thursday, the work is still on display and is on sale for €6,500

The organisers and the jury have now said that they will not communicate further on the subject “pending the submission of the expert report.”

Gaston Vogel on the case

Meanwhile, it seems that Dieschburg has called in renowned Luxembourg lawyer Gaston Vogel, even though Zhang says she has not reverted to legal recourse. “I can’t bear to see exceptional talent being persecuted for nonsense,” Vogel told L’essentiel. “You can’t accuse him of plagiarism. In history, artists are inspired by each other. Those who accuse him are mistaken.”

Dieschburg was apparently confronted with similar accusations last year and defended himself by claiming that by publishing photos in public, the artist and model automatically surrender certain rights. Zhang argues to the contrary. “To be very clear, a person photographed in a photoshoot does not automatically lose the right to their likeness the moment their images are released to the public, nor does the person who owns the copyright automatically lose copyright to their work by sharing it with the public.”

The case also came to the attention of photographer and digital artist Bekka Björke, who is currently based out of southwestern Washington. She noticed that some of her work had also been used by Dieschburg. “So fucked up! Thanks to your [Zhang’s] post someone alerted me that he’d done the same with my own work. I hope there are repercussions,” Björke tweeted.