Smithsonian, Christo stole credit from top photographer, lawsuit says

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Smithsonian Institution and the artist Christo were sued on Tuesday by a New York photographer who accused them of stealing credit for his photos of “Running Fence,” a 1976 installation that remains one of Christo’s best-known works.

FILE PHOTO: Bulgarian-born artist Christo Vladimirov Javacheff known as Christo attends a news conference during the presentation of the installation 'The Floating Piers', on the Lake Iseo, northern Italy June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Gianfranco Gorgoni said he never gave permission to use his copyrighted photos of the 24-mile (39 km) nylon-and-steel installation for a 2010 book, “Remembering the Running Fence,” and film accompanying a Smithsonian exhibition.

Gorgoni said his photos had been used in a 1978 book “Christo: Running Fence,” which called him the copyright owner.

But according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Christo sold the photos to the Smithsonian in 2007, and he and his wife Jeanne-Claude falsely told the institution that they held the copyrights.

Gorgoni, who retained the negatives, said he later tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a licensing arrangement with the defendants, whose websites name Christo as the copyright holder.

“This action is brought by Gorgoni to vindicate his rights as an artist in response to the wrongful actions taken by Christo and the Smithsonian to erase Gorgoni’s artistic contributions from the historical record,” the complaint said.

Chris LaRocco, a lawyer for Christo, declined to comment. The Smithsonian did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Gorgoni is seeking a declaration that he holds the copyrights plus unspecified damages.

“Running Fence” ran across the hills of Sonoma and Marin counties in northern California for two weeks in September 1976.

The Bulgarian-born Christo, 82, whose full name is Christo Javacheff, and Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009, are also known for such works as “The Gates,” a 2005 installation in New York’s Central Park, and the 1995 wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin.

Gorgoni, 75, was born in Italy and has a home there.

His works have appeared in museums and publications such as The New York Times, and include photos of artists like Christo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Willem de Kooning, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol.

The case is Gorgoni v Javacheff et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-09097.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman