Billboard work taken down after Guggenheim Bilbao complains

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The piece is part of an exhibition in Frankfurt by the artists Paul McCarthy and Mike Bouchet, but the Spanish museum considers it a commercial banner

By Laurie Rojas. Web only
Published online: 11 April 2014

Bilbao Battleship Billboard, by the artists Paul McCarthy and Mike Bouchet. Photo: Camilo Brau

A banner that depicts the Guggenheim Bilbao as a military battleship is being dismantled from a busy intersection in the Basque city today after the museum complained. The piece is an extension of Paul McCarthy and Mike Bouchet’s current exhibition at Portikus in Frankfurt, but the Spanish museum says it considers the work a commercial billboard, and so asked for its removal.

The large vinyl banner shows an inverted image of the Frank Gehry-designed building digitally altered to look like two heavily-gunned ships. Tentatively titled Bilbao Battleship Billboard, the piece went up on 1 April and was intended as a caricature, according to one of the artists, Mike Bouchet. It is part of a joint exhibition at Portikus, “Powered A-Hole Spanish Donkey Sport Dick Drink Donkey Dong Dongs Sunscreen Model” (until 20 April), which uses military imagery to explore “the US domination of the visual arts industry since World War II”, the Frankfurt gallery says on its website.

In an email sent to a Spanish publicity agency working for Marlborough Chelsea (which represented Bouchet), the Guggenheim Bilbao said that it wanted the banner to come down because it “includes connotations that discredit the institution”.

The museum told The Art Newspaper today that it did not consider the billboard as a work of art in its request for removal. The museum wrote to the agency “as they had installed a large commercial banner featuring an image of the museum, which is trademarked, without the museum’s knowledge or permission”. The banner “does not contain any reference to any artist’s name so the removal of the billboard was requested”.

Bouchet has told other media that the Guggenheim’s demands infringe on his freedom of expression, but the museum denies any censorship: “The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao absolutely respects the artists’ rights and it likewise protects its own image rights and those of Frank Gehry’s building,” the museum added.

“That is a false statement,” the artist Mike Bouchet told The Art Newspaper. “If they absolutely respected the artists’ rights, they would let the piece stay up”. The artist says that by last night, the museum knew the work was authored by them. “This morning, they threatened the agency with destroying the work if it was not taken down by noon”, he adds. “It’s a little out of control.”

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