Deutsch ‘Heist’ Artist Sounds Off to The Guardian

By Patrick Coffee 

Deutsch received a good bit of attention earlier this month for its “art heist for good” campaign for Water Is Life.

It was an unusual project which took more than two years to complete and made use of the work of JR–the pseudonymous French artist who is sort of like that country’s Banksy–to raise money for charity via wealthy art investors.

The artist himself, however, remains skeptical of the campaign. In an interview published today in The Guardian, he says that he never gave Deutsch permission to use, remove or sell his work–and he asserts that some of it may not even be his.


From that piece:

“To describe the scheme as a ‘heist’ is an exaggeration. [Deutsch] worked with local representatives, and replaced the vinyl coverings with new, metal roofing.”

JR argues that some of the coverings were created by a group that he organized which continues producing more pieces of artwork based on photos taken by locals. He tells the Guardian: “I realised that it wasn’t the photo I took but it’s the continuity of the work we did in Kibera in 2009.”

He also questions whether the project was the most effective way to raise money for charity:

“You have an NGO investing tons of their benefactors’ money to sell a piece at a small auction house for $10,000? The idea was interesting but highly inefficient.”

Julia Neumann, who served as CD on the campaign, tells The Guardian that the agency tried to contact JR to get permission but moved ahead when it could not reach him. She also defends the campaign’s larger purpose, noting that many of the works in question were deteriorating and that the elements would have eventually rendered them unusable:

“I think the community can benefit from what we’re doing. It didn’t feel like they cared about the art. They have nowhere to pee, they don’t know where food is coming from. That’s their problems.”

Note that JR didn’t really slam the work–he merely expressed some skepticism about the way the project was organized. So this story is a bit more complicated than the standard narrative involving an artist who declines to give permission for his/her work to be used in ad campaigns.