Birkenstock CEO Sues Artist Ida Ekblad for Appropriating Ad Featuring His Daughter

The image appeared in Ida Ekblad's recent show at the Kunsthaus Hamburg, which is also being sued.

Ida Ekblad at Blain Southern Gallery in London for the 2014 show, "Refraction: The Image Of Sense." Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Blain Southern.

CEO of German shoe manufacturer Birkenstock, Oliver Reichert, has filed a lawsuit against the Norwegian artist Ida Ekblad, after she used a Birkenstock ad featuring an image of Reichert’s 6-year-old daughter in a recent artwork at the Kunsthaus Hamburg.

Reichert is also suing the exhibition space in Hamburg, a medium-sized nonprofit that hosted Ekblad’s first institutional solo exhibition in Germany, which closed this past weekend.

The Reichert family insists that the case is less a matter of copyright law, and more one of protecting the personal rights of the child, according to a statement given to the Deutsche Presse Agentur. The ad campaign’s photographer, Anders Overgaard, however, has filed an additional lawsuit against Ekblad, claiming copyright infringement.

The appropriated image had been hanging on the wall of the exhibition hall, with “Ekblad” written on it. Following a request from the Reichert family to remove the image from the exhibition—which was titled “Diary of a Madam,” on view from February 6 until March 26—it was temporarily shut down on March 13.

When it reopened, Ekblad had replaced the Birkenstock ad with an image of herself as a child. She told the Welt am Sonntag that the reason she had chosen the ad in the first place was because the child looked similar to the artist herself when she was that age.

The multimedia artist, born in 1980, often uses found images and objects in her work. “Diary of a Madam” included large-format paintings and airbrushed metal sculptures.

“The artist seems to belong to a generation that undiscerningly circumvents image rights,” a spokesperson for the family told the Welt am Sonntag.

An explanation taken from the exhibition text for the show speaks in defense of Ekblad’s use of appropriated images:

“This non-hierarchical aesthetic approach to the visual repertory of the recent past—often derived from contexts of popular culture and everyday life—may be understood in the sense of an ‘open source’ mentality which is devoid of the intention of consciously seeking to quote or to comment.”

But this “open source mentality” could potentiality prove to be illegal. Reichert’s case, which was filed mid-March, will go before the Hamburg district court at the beginning of April. The court’s decision could have far-reaching consequences for questions regarding artistic freedom and a minor model’s rights over their own image.

The Kunsthaus Hamburg and Galerie Max Hetzler, which represents the artist in Germany, did not immediately respond to artnet News’ request for comment.

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