90-Year-Old Vandalizes Crossword Artwork, Then Claims Copyright on the Result

She followed the instructions.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

When a 90-year-old retiree visited the Neues Museum Nürnberg in July, she may not have been planning to create a new artwork, but now her lawyer claims that that’s exactly what she did.

The woman, known only as Hannelore K., filled in an empty crossword in an artwork by German Fluxus artist Arthur Köpcke that bears the instruction “Insert words!”

Ms. K. took the artist at his, ahem, word.

Neues Museum Nürnberg. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Neues Museum Nürnberg. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The authorities call it vandalism; her attorney, Heinz-Harro Salloch,according to the Suddeutsche Zeitung, now says that Ms. K. now holds the copyright over the “augmented” work, and that when the museum repaired it, it violated her copyright. Besides, argues Salloch, Ms. K. has only increased the artist’s fame, and thus the work’s value.

Salloch, of the firm Holtkamp Bongard Salloch, furthermore claims that since the Fluxus movement was all about the idea, not the precious object, K.’s act of following the artist’s instructions clearly demonstrates that her knowledge of the Fluxus movement is superior to that of museum staff.

The aggressive lawyering echoes that of Cecilia Giménez, the amateur restorer who overpainted a 1930 fresco of Jesus at a small church in the Spanish town of Borja in 2012. The botched restoration of the flaking fresco was hailed and mocked worldwide under the moniker “Beast Jesus,” and ended up drawing thousands of tourists. Giménez managed to claim a cut of the profits.

It remains to be seen if the city of Nürnberg will experience a similar influx of tourists in the months to come.


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