NYC-based artist Jonathan Seliger is best known for his "meticulous reproductions/interpretations of mass produced objects," according to the Jack Shainman Gallery. Most relevant for us: his reproductions of luxury brand shopping bags, such as Chanel, Prada, Cartier, and Hermès, among others. His work is supposedly based on humor and social critique, as demonstrated in his use of language, the naming of artworks and show titles, for example. Some of the names: "The wedding present" for the Tiffany & Co. bag; "Town" for the Chanel bag; "Country" and "Hansom" for the Hermès shopping bags; "Class Act" for the YSL bag; "2nd Engagement" for the Cartier bag; "Princess" for the Prada bag; and "Biggie's Socks" for the Gucci bag.
I'm not terribly sure that Seliger isn't just tapping into the overwhelming amount of logo-whoring that has overtaken the U.S. and other markets over the past few decades or so with his automotive enamel on bronze bags. Seliger claims that he "wants the viewer to engage the objects on a more universal level" and says that "as in all of my work, I hope that humor and pathos bounce off each other and exist simultaneously."
Pathos or no pathos, with prices ranging from $1,440-$12,500 and some items depending almost entirely on the use of others' trademarked logos, it is extremely surprising to me that none of the high fashion houses whose trademarks have been used by Seliger have brought suit against him (that we know of). In lieu of a full fair use analysis, here's the bottom line: cases dealing with fair use consistently take the following factors into consideration: (1) the purpose/character of the use (what was the main purpose that motivated the artist (Seliger in this case) to create and release the work?); (2) the nature of the work (is it commercial or not?); (3) how much of the original work is embodied in the subsequent work; and (4) market harm (how the subsequent work affects the market for the original work). As we have mentioned in the past, it is difficult to predict the way a court would rule if a lawsuit were to arise.
One additional thing that is interesting to note is that while there seems to be an abundance (and by "abundance" I mean more than just one) of the Chanel, Prada, Hermès, etc. bags in existence, there are not too many of the Louis Vuitton ones. This is likely not a coincidence, as Louis Vuitton has a very serious reputation for taking down anyone and everyone who uses its logo, even for what appear to be purely social commentary or parody purposes. With this in mind, cease and desist letters may have exchanged hands without giving rise to a lawsuit. We'll let you know if any arise in the future.