Sze Tsung Leong, David Burdeny | Essays

A Matter of Perspective?

The Vancouver Sun has run a long follow-up story, by Jennifer Moss, to my Los Angeles Times piece on the plagiarism charges leveled by Sze Tsung Leong against David Burdeny.

I bring it up here as I find it to be a thoroughly disreputable piece of journalism, larded up with charged phrases clearly intended to frame the story in a positive manner for Burdeny. The implication is that a fancy-pants New York artist and a big city paper are somehow in cahoots against an innocent hometown boy. And so my article "coughs up" rather than "presents" evidence. And then there's a paragraph like this, which seems almost cribbed from Sarah Palin: "Borrowed or not, there’s a little thing called freedom of expression at stake whenever an artist puts an image out there. In a corporate era, especially in a lawsuit-happy culture like that of the U.S., ownership of an image is more contentious than ever before." So there is a tonal character to the Sun piece that I find objectionable. But far worse is its casual treatment of the facts. Continuing what is essentially a defense of Burdeny, Moss writes, "The L.A. Times points out that there are even similarities between the artists’ statements." This subject is then dropped. Notice how the author does not see fit to examine these charges herself, or suggest that there might be some importance to the fact that Burdeny has apparently copied significantly from Leong in a second medium. More egregiously, Moss raises an accusation — found on the Internet — that Leong's gallery, Yossi Milo, has exhibited another artist whose work might be overly indebted to another artist. This, I suppose, is fair enough. But there is a gross imbalance given what Moss has not mentioned: that Leong is not the only artist Burdeny has been accused of copying. As I wrote in my article, Burdeny's images also bear striking resemblance to works by Elger Esser and Andreas Gursky. And as I wrote in a follow up on this site, and as has been widely noted online, his images also closely approximate those by Michael Wesely, Michael Kenna, and David Fokos, among others.

Through my own source I've learned that Burdeny actually took a course with Fokos, and then began copying his work so closely that Fokos's gallerist was forced to intervene. Burdeny, as seems to be his M.O., denied the accusation. So Moss is content to impugn the character of the Milo gallery (and by association, Leong) but has withheld from the reader direct evidence that would seem to impugn Burdeny, the ostensible subject of her piece. Moss then concludes with a logical mindbender, suggesting that, somehow, Leong may have been the one copying Burdeny: "perhaps it’s the other way around, and Leong’s images are similar to Burdeny’s." Whether Burdeny is truly a plagiarist, or whether his work can be described as legitimately inspired by other photographers is a reasonable question on which reasonable people may disagree. Certainly the law is vague. But the idea that Leong is guilty of copying Burdeny is preposterous, and the Vancouver Sun's article is, quite simply, a grossly irresponsible work of journalism.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Politics

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