Rauschenberg sues artist for selling his trash

Robert Francis Montgomery's dumpster diving has landed him in litigation


The American artist Robert Rauschenberg has sued an artist in Florida, claiming violation of his rights under the US Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA).

According to Rauschenberg, in 2007 the defendant, Robert Francis Montgomery of Florida, who also paints under the name of Robert Fontaine, sold works purportedly by Rauschenberg which Rauschenberg did not create, with certificates of authenticity. Rauschenberg alleges that this violated his rights under VARA to protect the attribution of his work.

Montgomery says there was no violation of artists’ rights because Rauschenberg created the disputed work. His lawyer, Yale T. Freeman of Naples, Florida, told The Art Newspaper that Montgomery found a group of “chromes,” or large negatives, in Rauschenberg’s trash in 1998. Although most of them were given away or discarded over the years, “a piece was sold”, Mr Freeman said. He disagrees that this diluted Rauschenberg’s name or prejudiced his reputation, saying: “Why does the lion want to eat the mouse?”

Rauschenberg is seeking “to prevent the use of his name as being the author of any work of visual art which he did not create”, his court complaint says. He alleges damage to his image from the sales, which he says jeopardise the economic value of his legitimate works, and damage his reputation. The suit seeks to enjoin Montgomery from doing anything likely to confuse or deceive others into believing that art not attribut­able to Rauschenberg came from him.

He is also seeking the destruction of all items in Montgomery’s possession bearing Rauschenberg’s name or claiming to be his work, and all profits allegedly wrongly derived from using his name.

Montgomery says that all of Rauschenberg’s claims are barred because Rauschenberg “is the author” of the material which is the subject of the lawsuit. In an answer filed in court on 14 February, Montgomery says that the claims are further barred because if Rauschenberg did sustain damages, they are attributable to the artist’s “own reckless, negligent or culpable conduct”.

Rauschenberg has also filed a lawsuit in state court against Montgomery and H. W. Gallery of Florida, seeking fact-finding in relation to alleged sales of counterfeit works that were purportedly certified as attributable to Rauschenberg. Montgomery is seeking dismissal of that action, saying that it lacks any factual allegations related to actual events.