Black Cowboy Painting At Guggenheim Bilbao Spurs Calls Of Plagiarism
By Mikelle Leow, 14 Jul 2022
When it comes to lookalikes, it’s certainly not the art world’s first rodeo. A new cowboy painting on display at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has been at the center of some contention over its resemblance to a scene in a film.
Spanish artist Gala Knörr, one of the emerging creatives in the museum’s Basque Artist Program, had announced that her Young Cowboy portraits would be on show from July 8 through September 13.
One of the works, Young Cowboy Gazing, stood out—it depicted a Black cowboy with his head turned to lock eyes with the observer. The painting is a commentary on the whitewashing in media and history.
“The image of the cowboy is an archetype produced by advertising, the cinema, and the media that nevertheless hides an important part of its history, since its origin lies in colonialism and in a mixture of races, cultures, and provenances,” explains the Guggenheim Bilbao.
But there was a second reason the painting gripped the public’s attention.
the painting turned heads. On TikTok, art enthusiasts pointed out its near identical composition with a scene from an episode in Hulu’s Your Attention Please. According to Paper Magazine, some of these videos have been taken down due to “bullying.”
Entitled Blue, the episode was directed by dayday, a queer Black artist from Brooklyn, and follows a Texan bull rider named Ezekiel “Blue” Mitchell, who represents the wider but unseen community of Black cowboys. Like the Young Cowboy Gazing painting, the film raises issues about Black erasure, whitewashing, and segregation.
While Knörr cited Brianna Noble—a Black horsewoman who arrived at a Black Lives Matter protest on horseback—as one of her inspirations for the painting, she did not name dayday’s work as a muse. When confronted, the artist said the lack of attribution was “a very huge mistake” on her part.
Recognizing the similarities, the museum agreed that adequate credit was not given. Instead of pulling down the artworks, though, it told the Rolling Stone that dayday’s version will now be displayed alongside the offending piece as a statement about “the dual erasure of the cowboys of the Basque country and African-American cowboys in the United States from history.”
The updated description for the painting on the Guggenheim Bilbao website now reads: “Gala Knörr directly incorporates images inspired from the five-minute film Blue (2022), specially made for Hulu’s series Your Attention Please (2022) and directed by Queer Black American artist and director dayday, who offers an intimate portrait of bull rider Ezekiel ‘Blue’ Mitchell and the legacy of Black American cowboys. In dayday’s film, the protagonist first appears from the back looking into the pastoral horizon and then facing the viewer with a solemn stare, the latter featured in Knörr’s painting.”
The choice to place both versions next to each other—with one of them produced by an actual Black creator—is an unusual one. And while recognition has finally been restored, this entire saga does perpetuate the notion of Black erasure.
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