Grey Room

Trademark Law and the Contingent Art Object

Xiyin Tang


Few subjects seem as inapposite, at first blush, as trademark law—which regulates commercial symbols like the McDonald’s golden arches, that reliable indicator of fast-and-cheap burgers—and the lofty fine arts. Yet scholars have long noted the nexus between trademark law’s regulation of commercial symbols and the art market (which, some might say, has increasingly become a market of commercial symbolism). Indeed, the similarities are myriad. Rather than lament the collapsing of distinctions, perhaps inevitable, between a Louis Vuitton handbag, a “Takashi Murakami for Louis Vuitton” handbag, and a Takashi Murakami artwork sold by Gagosian, trademark law provides both a fruitful—and provocative—lens with which to analyze long-standing questions and concerns about art’s authenticity, provenance, and the increasing importance of the artist’s signature.