Making vs. ideating


Dear Artist,

A couple of weeks ago, a case began in a chamber of the Paris court to decide if Daniel Druet can lay claim to the authorship of some wax models he made for Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan. Cattelan is known for, among other things, duct-taping a banana to the wall of Galerie Perrotin’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2019, selling two editions of it for $120,000.00, having it eaten by another artist, replaced, and then removed from the fair. The piece, titled “Comedian”, was subsequently donated to the Guggenheim with a certificate of authenticity and instructions and a diagram for its installation and display.

La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour), 1999 Polyester resin, natural hairs, accessories, stone, carpet Dimensions variable by Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960)

La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour), 1999
Polyester resin, natural hairs, accessories, stone, carpet
Dimensions variable
by Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960)

Druet, a well-known sculptor of wax effigies, an alumnus of the Beaux-Arts de Paris, and twice, the winner of the Prix de Rome, made some wax models for Cattelan, beginning in 1999 with one depicting Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteorite. He claims that he, in fact, made nine of Cattelan’s most well-known works, and that he’s subsequently been robbed of his intellectual property by not being co-credited. As a result of the omission, he’s seeking full authorship of the works and acknowledgement from Cattelan and Galerie Perrotin, plus compensation from their sales, which amount to millions. Druet is also suing Monnaie de Paris, the museum that staged Cattelan’s major retrospective in 2016 for being in on the appropriation and omission of credit.

Him, 2001 Wax, human hair, suit, polyester resin 101 x 41 x 53 cm | 39 3/4 x 16 1/4 x 20 3/4 inches Edition of 3 by Maurizio Cattelan

Him, 2001
Wax, human hair, suit, polyester resin
101 x 41 x 53 cm
Edition of 3
by Maurizio Cattelan

Both Maurizio Cattelan and Daniel Druet agree that Cattelan commissioned Druet to make the effigies, and paid him for them. The gallery says Druet was credited for the models as a subcontractor, rather than a creator. All parties admit that the terms of the collaboration were initially vague. And there was no contract. Cattelan says that as the ideator, he received delivery of the Pope standing, for example, then sawed it in half on the floor and affixed a meteor-like rock to it. But Druet insists that it was the accreditation of the wax figures that he contests, not Cattelan’s theatrical installations. Some of his other pieces, he says, were exhibited just as he delivered them, or simply hung on the wall, and that written support material for the Pope omits any mention of his making the model effigy. “They were his ideas, but my way of making them,” says Druet. “It’s the life that I give to each character. I express myself in what I do.”



La Rivoluzione siamo noi (We are the Revolution), 2000 Polyester resin, wax, pigment, felt suit, and metal coat rack figure: 123.8 x 35.6 x 43.2 cm coat rack: 189.9 x 47 x 52.1 cm by Maurizio Cattelan

La Rivoluzione siamo noi (We are the Revolution), 2000
Polyester resin, wax, pigment, felt suit, and metal coat rack
figure: 123.8 x 35.6 x 43.2 cm coat rack: 189.9 x 47 x 52.1 cm
by Maurizio Cattelan

PS: “The issue of authorship in conceptual art lies at the heart of the dispute between Maurizio Cattelan and Daniel Druet. There is no doubt that Maurizio Cattelan’s personalitý exists in all of his works through the creative choices he makes, the staging, and the meaning found by each viewer.” (Galerie Perrotin, May, 2022)

“He sent a ten-line fax – or collaborators who spoke a few words of French gave me some instructions. All vague, I had to get by on my own.” (Daniel Druet, to Le Monde, 2022)

“I believe we should get rid of the copyright-reigned world, where ideas coincide with property,” (Maurizio Cattelan, 2018)

Esoterica: “There’s a greater distance today,” said Druet’s lawyer during trial, “between the person who makes [an artwork]and the person who has the idea.” He was mid-discussion about what defines a creative act, the meaning of conceptual art and whether Maurizio Cattelan can draw. The problem is, while conceptual artists have been using fabricators, assistants and readymades since the birth of the movement and this is, it seems, a part of conceptualism itself; painters, sculptures, printmakers and anyone else with deep pockets and ambition have been using assistants forever, too. Never was there a Renaissance workshop without a dozen chisels chiseling. And all those cherubic angels didn’t paint themselves. Nevertheless, 21st Century artists are nervous – even penning an op-ed for La Monde last week to assert the superiority of ideating over making. “Daniel Druet’s quest for recognition as the exclusive author of the works imagined by Maurizio Cattelan opens the door to the disqualification of conceptual art.” A verdict in Druet vs Cattelan is expected July 8.

Daniel Druet in his Paris studio, 1983. Guy Le Querrec photo.

Daniel Druet in his Paris studio, 1983.
Guy Le Querrec photo.

“I never touch the work myself. It’s out of my hands.” (Maurzio Cattelan to Nancy Spector, chief curator of the Guggenheim Museum, 2000)

“I made those works. No one mentions me.” (Daniel Druet)

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“How can one state the source of its creativity with absolute certainty?” (Maurizio Cattelan)



    • Copyright seems to be at the heart of this case and does have sweeping ramifications for all of us artists. I hope Cattelan loses – he said above that he never touches the work. But if the works are his idea? Druet should get credit for the making …
      For myself, this copyright issue came up a few years ago in our area of northern California. The issue of using others’ photographs for paintings, for example. The judge of our national show and an art instructor at a famous college in San Franisco, said we definitely have to use our own photos. I adhere to this now but a few years before that we had a 9pc show and I used toucan pictures from a commercial website off the internet which was the only way to do it if I wanted to paint all those lovely varieties of toucans. They were probably public domain, but I don’t know for sure. To be safe I use my own photos for inspiration.

    • John Francis on

      Rubbish! Film Production is *rarely* a “collaboration”. It’s a ‘franchise’. The roles of the Producers, Technicians and Crews are clearly defined and their respective Union contracts are detailed and specific. These days, the ‘star’ of the film is typically the biggest salary and gets most of the “glory”. How often do you see a film Director on a late night talk show or “walking the Red Carpet”?

  1. Gave me a good mental shake – thanks so much for continuing your art conversation into another decade.

    Waving from Toronto

  2. Gave me a good mental shake – thanks so much for continuing your art conversation into another decade.

    Waving from Toronto

  3. If I remember correctly, ideas are not granted copyright—only a physical work. That is the reason Pen’s issue with photographic reference is a potential violation. We cannot reproduce photographs taken by someone else, in part or completely, without their express permission, as the photographer owns the copyright.

  4. Its always been my opinion that to qualify a person as as an artist or to a claim ones work as Art there is craft and craftsmanship required. The artist’s project has always been to craft their idea into existence., to make the vision real. To hire someone to make your ideas is just industry not Art.

  5. Interesting and complicated. I always think the person who had the idea is greater, because the work never would have been created otherwise. However, it is obvious that Druet contributed artistically, too. Seems to me that attribution and compensation are the fair thing to do here. As a former advertising creative director, I always strived to share the credit for my produced work. Too much magnanimity is always better than not enough.

  6. Jo Williams on

    The fact that the terms were vague and there was no contract–no wonder they’re in the middle of this mess right now. Since both artists had input in the making of this conceptual art, what if they were each granted one half of the legal ownership as well as dividing any money gained from this creative effort in half as well? Just glad I don’t make conceptual art myself…

  7. Elizabeth Sue Mahy on

    When are we going to get beyond negative, hurtful, and sensational art? And no. I don’t care what it sells for. An iteration or revisit of a negative iteration is causal. Margaret Atwood was recently so terribly irresponsible with repressive book about women whose name escapes me. What is that going to do FOR THE CULTURE going forward except put a horrible game plan out there. Moving around who should be paid for this outrageous stuff is a travesty. Wake up people or we are going to get to live among our own irresponsible creations.

  8. He agreed, was paid, now mad for not being acknowledged in the final production. Sounds like a familiar story to me. I am interested to hear what the judge’s final verdict will be.

  9. Excellent discussion!
    As someone who has done public art for cities, several of the projects my collaborative partner and I were chosen to “fabricate” the piece of art and install it, but were not chosen to design it.
    Working from the “designer’s ” paintings, we created very detailed glass mosaics and installed them on buildings. We were paid well and signed a contract acknowledging that the design was not ours but the designing artists.
    All of the publicity, the plaques, the website mention only the designing artists. It’s very disappointing to us that we’re aren’t even given the courtesy of a mention anywhere, but that’s the way it is in public art.
    We have a fellow artist friend whose son is making a big name for himself in Miami and the northeast. Mostly he is the designer and hires people to create 3D shapes that are included in his art. He draws and designs exactly what he hires them to make. He’s pays them for it. I look at it as buying your substrate. It becomes part of your art.
    In my OWN personal art, I work solely from my own designs and photos. Anyone else’s photos belong to them. They are NOT mine from which to work unless I’ve been hired by them to do so.

  10. Druet is a contractor plain and simple – unless he negotiated royalties up front its tough bananas for him – live and learn. Paid for services rendered – done – period. If he lived in the state of California he’d have a legal case for royalties even sans contract – in this case it looks like he has zero recourse and rightly so.

  11. As an artist who does quite a bit of custom work, this is interesting to me as are the replies I’ve read so far.
    Consider this: customers contact me with ideas and (usually though not always) photos of what they want. The ideas and the photos are theirs whether it is for a portrait, a landscape scene or a painting of their grandchildren on the beach. Does this mean the customers are the conceptual artists? If not, is that because they are not artists themselves? But what if they were?
    I generally make a mockup before beginning the painting to make sure they will be happy with it and send an image of the completed work for approval before shipping. Does that make me a contractor? I do get paid the agreed upon amount.
    And yet… it is my signature that is on the front of the painting. The certificate of authenticity states that the copyright remains with me. Wasn’t it the same for famous artists like John Singer Sargent? I am sure that my customers take the credit when they show off the works or give them as gifts, but since my name is on them with a copyright notice on the back, the credit is shared. Whenever I have done public art such as murals, it is the same.
    Thinking of it this way, it seems to me that the difference is one of perception more than anything. I do agree that the lack of a contract is a big issue and perhaps this is a lesson learned for Druet.

  12. Marco Menato on

    I have been in a situation in which someone I painted, recognising himself, insisted the painting belonged to him. I gave it to him. And in some cultures, taking a person’s photograph is experienced as robbing their spirit. I now either seek consent ahead, or am prepared to hand it over.

  13. Jeanette Paul on

    A couple of things don’t make sense to me. The quote wishing to get rid of copyright with ideas as property by the idea man himself is one. Not to mention that ideas are not copyrightable already. I suppose he sees himself as equivalent to an author hiring a ghost writer. However, I cannot understand his reluctance to credit the wax statue maker for his part, even if contracted, as the idea person freely admits he never touches a piece himself. I am assuming, based on what’s stated in the article, and what’s not, that the sculptor only wants his name mentioned, and not further compensation. Although there does seem to be confusion as to whether the sculptor only wants credit for his part in the works when the article goes on to state that he quests recognition as the exclusive author of the works imagined.

  14. So if someone gives you a commission and asks you to paint their children. Are they the artist ? And if so does that mean John Singer Sargent was never an artist? And with this concept of the ‘idea’ being the art does that mean that the person who first thought of painting a portrait is the artist responsible for all portraits? This all seems so terribly straight forward to me and another example of convoluted art world nonsense. Thanks Sara, I always enjoy your writing.

  15. Howard K. Lobb on

    I actually don’t think that conceptual ART,,, is really a validity of ART,,, it is thought,,, it is imaginative thought perhaps,,, it in of itself is nothing,,,
    If the thought becomes a reality through the act of actually doing something,,, the one with the dirt under their fingernails is the actual creator,,,

  16. Charles Eisener on

    The concept of “authorship” as opposed to copyright is interesting. Under current copyright law, as I understand it, if a work is commissioned by a client, they are considered the copyright holder unless there is a contract in which the artist retains copyright and reserves all rights to reproduce the piece. So if you do contract work be sure to protect your rights in the contract itself.
    Authorship is another matter, I would think. If I hire a ghost writer to write a book for me, I am not the author even though I own the copyright. Whether or not the book is a best seller is immaterial – the author is still only entitled to the terms agreed to in the initial contract.
    It is the painting, book, or creative product that receives the copyright, not the concept or idea. The concept must be brought to fruition in a physical form or product to be protected.
    It is the same in industry. An engineer who develops a new semiconductor while working for ABC Corp does not own the patent or copyright on the design and product – it belongs to his/her employer.

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image002 (1)Permission to Paint Expressively Series   Session 2 

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We all need beauty, especially at a time when it appears to many that the world is in chaos.

Painting is the way I view my life, and it helps me keep my mind straight and my eyes on the positive. I look for beauty wherever I go. For that reason, I know that my life will not be long enough to paint all the ideas that I have.

I am painting because the Lord put the passion and desire in my heart to glorify Him in this way.

I have dedicated my life since 1983 to creating a body of work that testifies of His Creation, majesty, power, beauty, life and love.

Light and how we see it on the earth is the subject of all of my paintings.

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