US artist implicates Lacoste in Berlin KaDeWe vandalism caper
Early last Thursday, someone used a fire extinguisher to cover the outdoor display windows of Berlin's upscale department store KaDeWe with grass-green paint.
Police were baffled, suggesting that the 'colour attack' had been politically motivated. Speculation about possible vandals ranged from pro-Tibet activists angry over the Chinese-themed window display to consumerism-hating leftist radicals.
But 27-year-old American artist Brad Downey says he was actually paid by luxury clothing label Lacoste to stage the action as part of an art installation to celebrate the company's 75th anniversary at KaDeWe.
"They asked me if I wanted to be a part of the project and I wrote a statement of intent that said 'something outside will turn green,' " Downey told The Local on Thursday. "The green colour was to match the alligator logo. They were happy with this and paid the first half up front."
But now Lacoste claims they fired Downey before the event was to take place, even though he said he has bank statements and contracts to prove otherwise. According to the Berlin daily Berliner Morgenpost, Lacoste said they never gave Downey a contract because he would not reveal the exact nature of intent for the project. Lacoste did not return calls from The Local.
"Yesterday, the curator of the 12.12 project gave me a statement that says I was honest with everyone from the beginning," Downey said.
KaDeWe and Lacoste invited 11 Berlin artists to create sculptures, installations, collages and video-installations in 11 storefront windows, calling the project 'Gallery 12.12,' inspired by the original iconic 12.12 polo shirt and the company's alligator logo.
Downey said he was not initially interested in participating in the project and submitted a proposal he thought would be too outrageous for project leaders to accept. "Everything I've ever done has been without permission," he said. "That they would say yes to this seemed ridiculous to me, which is why I stuck with it."
Because his work was what Downey calls "conceptual vandalism," and he used non-toxic, easy to remove paint, the artist doubts either KaDeWe or Lacoste will press charges. Workers were able to remove the paint before KaDeWe opened on the same day.
Downey, who has lived in Berlin since August 2007, says his work, which includes film, sculpture and street art, is "about rules and how law intersects with freedom and access."
He also expressed surprise that his employers could be caught off guard by his artistic effort.
"If you hire a vandal, you should probably expect to get vandalism," he said.
UPDATE: Lacoste spokesperson in Berlin, Jan Kruse, told The Local on May 30 that the company did not have a contract with Downey and that they had decided not to work with the artist when he wouldn't clarify the exact nature of his project. Kruse said he could not confirm whether Downey had been paid because the contracts were arranged in the Paris office.