What an Absolut Mess! Design Company Pelonio Rips Off Artist Valentin Ruhry

by Corinna Kirsch on July 27, 2012 · 8 comments Newswire

Valentin Ruhry, "Untitled (Hello World)," 2011.

Pelonio, a well-known creative agency based in Madrid, has sold a concept by artist Valentin Ruhry to Absolut Vodka, but without the artist’s consent. Now, there’s not much he can do about it.

His work, Untitled (Hello World), a light-switch billboard created for a May 2011 exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York, looks a whole lot like a light-switch billboard developed by Pelonio for Absolut Vodka’s “kissing room” at Madrid’s Fashion Week. Ruhry wouldn’t have known about the Absolut knock-off if it weren’t for an anonymous email sent to him by someone within the production team. It read:

they think they have been inspired by your work.
I think they have copied.


According to Ruhry’s website, he then exchanged several emails with the source, who revealed that the production team went so far as to take photos of Ruhry’s work before sending it off to artist Luisa Alvarez to creatively reconstruct for Absolut. The result is a remarkably similar artwork, with direct inspiration from Ruhry.

Ruhry’s piece wasn’t exactly unknown here in the States. When Ruhry debuted Untitled (Hello World) at the ACFNY in May of last year, its popularity was immediately apparent. Almost overnight it became an Internet sensation, as images of Ruhry’s work were reposted across hundreds of art, design, and tech blogs. Gizmodo playfully referred to the work as a “Giant Lite-Brite for adults.” It was somewhere between Reddit and Gizmodo that Pelonio found out about the work. Just weeks after Untitled (Hello World) had been deinstalled at the ACFNY, Absolut’s very own giant lite-brite was unveiled during Madrid Fashion Week.

Over email, Ruhry told me his lawyer was not encouraging about how a lawsuit would fare in court. He had been told “it would be a very difficult case, due to the different rights situation in Austria/Spain.” Despite the EU’s promise of a land without borders, it’s still difficult for an Austrian artist to pursue copyright claims across the continent. The main problem for Ruhry, however, is that the legal fees are just too high.

At this point, Ruhry has dropped legal action and embarked on a social media campaign to publicize his case. So far it hasn’t picked up much steam. But with the apparent inability of either Pelonio or Absolut Vodka to respond, it’s exactly what the artist needs for bringing attention to this case of corporate art recycling.


Nathan Chojnacki July 27, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Here’s the problem. Ruhry can’t claim ownership of a grid of colored buttons that someone can flip on and off to form a message. Ruhry’s piece, as I’ve seen it, hangs in an art gallery, probably with a security guard in the room and a don’t-touch-the-art sign on the wall. Now, call me art-faggy, but the piece sits in a gallery exactly as the artist intended it. Down to the color of the switches and the serifs on the “Hello World” ‘font’. All if this, including the title, was deliberately chosen by the artist to make a statement. Absolute took something that was begging for human interaction and opened it up for people to interact with it. By taking this idea out of the gallery and encouraging people to touch, play with, and modify it as Absolute has done, they’ve erased all the artistic statements that are contained in Ruhry’s original. It’s not art anymore (and definitely not Ruhry’s), It’s advertising. A team of suits at Absolute sat around and approached the grid of colored lights as advertisers. Ruhry approached it as an artist. He shouldn’t be pissed. It’s a cheap ripoff of his work, with no soul. He’s just wants money, which I’m sure he got for his original installation. And if I were him, I’d be careful how upset I get on this because his “art” as Gizmodo put it, is just a giant Lite-Brite ripoff anyway.

some fag who knows nothing about art 

Web Design Vizag July 28, 2012 at 6:18 am

Mmh, i guess that’s a bitchfight for attention at least the wording of Ruhry is chosen that way. Issues on art and copyright and art and the creative industries have been discussed and gained a lot of reflection already, artists have to grow up to play a role in this society but they tend to stagger with their unbearable need for attention. Also Ruhry should concentrate on the expression of his work to get away from the comparision. Billboards like this have certainly been done from Toyko to NewYork shopping malls several times before.

Gregg Woolard July 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Okay, say I want to rip off Absolute in my art, perhaps use billboards around Los Angeles, for example.  I make it look like an ad, but tweek it so it is “art”.  What would Absolute do? (WWAD?)

friendship person July 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm

id feel more sympathetic if he hadn’t gone with the banal ‘hello world’ route with his artwork. zzzzzzzzzzz.

The iPad Fan July 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm

But you do know the meaning of “Hello World” in the context of programming?

Paul Bauer August 17, 2012 at 5:14 am

you obviously have neither an idea of how the piece of art is supposed to work nor what “hello world” means in the context of programming.

CHHHHHHHHHX August 2, 2012 at 12:00 am

Culture revolves around copying and he probably shouldn’t have run straight to a lawyer … the concept of a grid of lights (although in this case they are switches) isn’t exactly original.

Michael Lang August 2, 2012 at 12:05 am

I’d be more sympathetic to this cause if I hadn’t received a hand-held “copy” of the work that doubles as a synth sequencer in December of 2010, a Bliptronic 5000 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds23ZHrx7VY  ).  

I think Ruhry’s piece is beautiful, but shame on him for overreaching like this.  His legal action and his website make him look like a self-important ass.  I’m glad his effort to sue failed, and think campaigns like his to “control his ideas” have no place in creative endeavor.  The claims go too far and are stifling to the efforts of others.  We can see such such effects today in the world of software thanks to the control of generic ideas of underwhelming originality afforded by software patents.

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