Joy Garnett

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Plume 2 (Strange Weather)
Joy-Garnett Plume-oil-on-canvas.jpg
Artist Joy Garnett
Year 2005
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 66 cm × 117 cm (26 in × 46 in)
Location Courtesy of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC

Joy Garnett (born 1965 [1]) is a painter and writer in Brooklyn, New York, USA. Garnett's paintings, based variously on news photographs, scientific imagery and military documents she gathers from the Internet, examine the apocalyptic-sublime at the intersections of media, politics and culture. She engages contemporary consumption of media and the delineation between journalistic and artistic images.[2] She takes the digital image itself as her subject and is interested in digital media in general. She is married to visual artist Bill Jones.

Her work is often associated with sampling in new media art and with appropriation art. Controversy surrounding her 2003 painting Molotov has drawn international scrutiny to issues of ownership and fair use in appropriation art. Garnett's work has been reproduced in publications including Harper's,[3] Perspecta: The Yale School of Architecture Journal,[4] and Cabinet magazine.

Since 2005, Garnett has served as Arts Editor at Cultural Politics,[5] a contemporary culture, politics and media journal published by Duke University Press. She is the editor of NEWSgrist.

Commissions, Awards, Residencies[edit]

In 2011, Garnett was commissioned by the Chipstone Foundation and the Milwaukee Art Museum to produce a painting and a film documenting its making for the traveling exhibition "The Tool at Hand."[6] In 2007, Garnett was invited to the iCommons Summit in Dubrovnik, Croatia to be an Artist in Residence.[7] In 2005 she was granted a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts.[8] In 2004, Garnett received a grant from Anonymous Was A Woman[9][10] before the age restriction was limited to women over 45. In 2002 she was the recipient of grants from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC)'s Manhattan Community Arts Fund[11] to organize the group exhibition "Night Vision"[12] at White Columns, NYC, and again in 2003 to produce an installation at the "Terrorvision" exhibition at Exit Art, NYC. In 2000 she received a grant from London's The Wellcome Trust to produce paintings for an exhibition held jointly at venues in London and Cambridge, organized by Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, UK.[13] In 1990-91, while completing her MFA at City College, Garnett received the Elizabeth Ralston McCabe Connor Award for excellence in graduate studies in painting.

Education and early career[edit]

Garnett completed her undergraduate work at McGill University in Quebec, Canada in 1983. In 1984 she went to Paris to study painting, and in 1985 she enrolled at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where she remained until she returned to New York in 1988. Once back in New York, she entered the graduate program at The City College of New York where she received her MFA in 1991.[14] While attending City College, Garnett received the Elizabeth Ralston McCabe Connor Award.

After graduating, her work was exhibited in several group shows, including the Summer Show at Debs & Co., New York in 1999. Debs & Co. also hosted her first solo exhibition the following spring, entitled "Buster-Jangle", a collection of paintings that appropriated photos of atomic bomb tests from the 1950s that Garnett found on the web after they were released by the US government under the Freedom of Information Act. Her work was reviewed and noted for its exploration of a “paradoxical realm of terrible beauty… tying together the histories of the bomb and American landscape painting."[15]

The Bomb Project[edit]

In 1997, while doing research for her first solo exhibition, Garnett began gathering images and documents about nuclear testing from primary sources on the Internet. Eventually this resulted in an online compilation of material known as The Bomb Project.[16] Spawned from her extensive imagery search, it led to an experimental recontextualization of images in a constantly growing archive. In creating The Bomb Project, Garnett addresses the role of the digital image as a cultural artifact, and attempts to reveal the information and hegemonic coding within these images with as little intervention as possible. She seeks to “establish a context where art, science and government are presented as interlocking and overlapping areas.”[17] Since its launch in 2000, the Bomb Project has been expanded to include still and moving declassified imagery, as well primary source documents, links to current events and news articles. The original documentation, produced by the nuclear industry, is offered side by side with activist views, providing a context for comparative study, analysis and creativity. In its current form, the compendium is intended to be used as a resource for other artists.


Garnett is known for her appropriation of mass media images in her paintings.[18] She collects images from news sources on the internet and saves them in her archives without noting the source or original photographer. Later, she recreates them in the form of oil painting on canvas. Each painting is produced in one sitting.[19] Stylistically, the results are expressionist as opposed to photorealist.

Use of found images[edit]

Garnett explores the problem of the found object by re-mediating and transforming the image of a journalistic photograph by painting it, thereby both shifting its context and opening it up for multiple interpretations by the viewer, as is consistent within the framework and context of art.[20]

While Garnett’s appropriation art may be regarded by some as an extension of the postmodernist ambition to defy traditional notions of originality and authorship, it may be best framed in terms of the tradition of painting that responds to, engages and extends contemporary media theory.[21] In any case, Garnett pushes the boundaries of her medium in order to understand its constraints more fully.

Molotov and surrounding controversy[edit]

Initial conflict[edit]

Artist Joy Garnett
Year 2003
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 178 cm × 152 cm (70 in × 60 in)
Location Private Collection

Garnett's 2004 exhibition Riot featured a series of paintings based on images pulled from mass media sources, depicting figures in "extreme emotional states."[22] One of the paintings, entitled Molotov, was originally sourced from a jpeg found on the Internet that was later discovered to be a fragment of a larger photograph[23] taken by Susan Meiselas during the Sandinista Revolution (1979). After the Riot exhibition closed, Meiselas's lawyer contacted Garnett with a cease and desist letter claiming copyright infringement and "piracy" of Meiselas' photograph.[3] The letter stipulated that she remove the image from her website, sign a retroactive licensing agreement to transfer all rights to the painting to Meiselas, and credit Meiselas on all subsequent reproductions of Molotov.[24]

Garnett responded to a threat of injunction by removing the image of Molotov from her website. Once the image was removed from Garnett's website, Meiselas did not pursue the matter further.


Before Garnett pulled the image off her website, the story had been picked up by Many of Garnett's peers were following the course of events, and were concerned by what they viewed as "one artist using his copyrights as a way to censor another artist."[25] Referencing an earlier legal battle known as Toywar involving similar copyright issues, a group of artists launched a solidarity campaign called Joywar.[3]

The idea behind Joywar was to demonstrate support for Garnett and protection of fair use by copying the Molotov image and reposting it in as many incarnations as possible. After Garnett announced her decision to remove the original image via the forums on, she was notified that one of her peers had already uploaded a mirror site, or copy of Garnett's original webpage, on his own server. Within a week, countless other mirrors were being uploaded. Other users were encouraged to grab the image, and either repost it or appropriate it in their own artwork.

Word of the cause spread quickly throughout the new media blogosphere. Soon the story was being reposted in French, Italian, Czech, Chinese, Spanish, and Catalan.[3] Derivative works were produced and shared at an exponential rate, protesting Meiselas's questionable claim of copyright infringement as a means of controlling what many of Garnett's peers regarded as a creative appropriation protected under fair use. Garnett created an online archive to document the origins, reactions, and critiques surrounding Joywar, and the subsequent global proliferation of images that were spurred by the controversy surrounding Garnett’s sampling from Meiselas' photograph.

In April 2006, Garnett and Meiselas were asked to attend the COMEDIES OF FAIR U$E symposium at the New York Institute for the Humanities. After meeting in person for the first time the day before, they gave a side-by-side account of the events surrounding Molotov at the conference. Their presentation was well-received, and an edited transcript was later published in Harper's, February 2007.

In the transcript, Meiselas states that her mission as a photojournalist was to provide a cultural and historical context for the images she captured, which she views as fundamentally different from Garnett's goal as an artist to "decontextualize" the images that she appropriates and remediates in paint. Meiselas mainly objects to the removal of her original subject (whom she identifies as "Molotov Man", later revealed to be a man named Pablo Arauz[3]) from the context of the photo, which she views as disrespectful to the individual himself and believes devalues her original work.[3]

Meiselas claims, "There is no denying in this digital age that images are increasingly dislocated and far more easily decontextualized." Meiselas ultimately believes that while "Technology allows us to do many things...that does not mean we must do them." Meiselas contends: "I never did sue Joy in the end, nor did I collect any licensing fees. But I still feel strongly, as I watch Pablo Arauz's context being stripped away--as I watch him being converted into the emblem of an abstract riot--that it would be a betrayal of him if I did not at least protest the diminishment of his act of defiance." Others have responded to this, however, by affirming that Pablo Arauz lent his gesture without his knowledge to the Meiselas photograph, which was to become the iconic symbol of the triumphant turning point of the Sandinista Revolution.[3] These critics note that Meiselas does not mention Pablo Arauz anywhere in her photographic essay, Nicaragua,[26] where his image, the image of "Molotov Man," first appeared; it was therefore Meiselas who initially stripped him of his identity as Pablo Arauz in order to convert the figure into an abstract emblem; this necessarily brings up the issue of the suppression of individual identity in the production of a Cultural icon.

Garnett, on the other hand, asks "Who owns the rights to this man's struggle?" She questions the legitimacy of an artist's right to dictate who can make commentary on their work and what can be said. On one hand she is concerned with the role that copyright may play in restricting artistic creation, and how to preserve rights of ownership while still allowing for creative appropriation under terms of fair use. But mainly, Garnett is interested in the ways in which painting as a metiér can be wielded to engage issues of mass media-generated culture.

While this particular case was never taken to court, similar conflicts have become subject to drawn-out legal battles. Most cases disputing fair use and copyright infringement in appropriation art have been dealt with on a case-to-case basis, because much of the legislation about what constitutes fair use leaves room for interpretation. The recent case establishing precedent is Blanch v. Koons (2005)[27] between Andrea Blanch, a commercial photographer, and the artist Jeff Koons. The case was decided in Koons' favor, establishing that a visual work of art that has incorporated appropriated imagery is sufficiently "transformative" and therefore protected as a fair use. It trumps the findings of an earlier high-profile case in 1991, Rogers v. Koons which involved another instance of Jeff Koons, being accused of copyright infringement by the author of the sourced image. Koons argued that his work fell under fair use by parody, which was rejected at the time.

Recent work[edit]

Garnett's work has long focused on the apocalyptic landscape and representations of cataclysmic events in the media. Garnett's recent solo exhibition "Boom & Bust" [2], October 15-November 13, 2010 at Winkleman Gallery, NY, zeroed-in further on the explosion as spectacle and metaphor. Her previous solo show in 2008 at Winkleman Gallery consisted of four large paintings connected by the suggestion that their source photographs were possibly taken at precisely the same moment in different locations around the world.[28] This work comments upon mass media imagery as a kind of global lingua franca.

Her 2007 exhibition "Strange Weather", was held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. Using mass media images of Hurricane Katrina as source material, Garnett "locates tensions between the visceral power of paint and the fleeting nature of images in the mass media, addressing the evolving role of art in an information-saturated society."[29]

Garnett occasionally curates group exhibitions (see "Reflective Reflexion" [3] at the Curatorial Research Lab, NY, 2010 and "Things Fall Apart" [4] at Winkleman Gallery, NY, 2009.) Forthcoming exhibitions and projects are listed on the artist's website. Garnett serves as Arts Editor at Cultural Politics [5], a tri-annual journal that examines the connections between cultural identities, political issues and conflicts, and global media.

Selected Publications and Exhibition Catalogs[edit]

Selected Writings[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Brewer, Paul: Curator's Statement. "Blasts," G Fine Art, Washington, DC, Sept 10 - Oct 22, 2005
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Portfolio: On the Rights of Molotov Man - Appropriation and the art of context," by Joy Garnett and Susan Meiselas. Harper's Magazine (February 2007) [pp.53-58]
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "The Tool at Hand," Milwaukee Art Museum, Dec 2011-Apr 2012
  7. ^ iCommons Summit 2007, Dubrovnik, Croatia: Announcement of Artists in Residence
  8. ^ Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency Program
  9. ^ Anonymous Was A Woman, press release 2004
  10. ^ Anonymous Was A Woman, official site
  11. ^ Manhattan Community Arts Fund
  12. ^ "Night Vision", official site
  13. ^ N01se exhibition, 2000
  14. ^ Garnett’s resume via first pulse projects
  15. ^ Griffin, Tim. “Joy Garnett, Buster-Jangle.” TimeOut NY, Issue No. 193 June 3–10, 1999.
  16. ^
  17. ^ The Bomb Project, (about page)
  18. ^ Miranda, Carolina, "Gallerina: WNYC's Datebook to Arts Events Around Town," Oct. 14, 2010
  19. ^ video footage of the artist at work
  20. ^ Butler, Sharon, "Blast Radius," The Huffington Post, October 25, 2010
  21. ^ Strange Weather, catalogue essay, Lucy Lippard, Strange Weather, The National Academy of Sciences, 2005
  22. ^ Riot, Debs & Co., New York, January 15-February 21, 2004[dead link]
  23. ^ Susan Meiselas, "Sandinistas at the walls of the Esteli National Guard headquarters, Esteli, Nicaragua, 1979" [1]
  24. ^ Joywar, Garnett's archive of material related to Joywar controversy.
  25. ^ Liza Sabater. JOYWAR: The Distorted Molotov. March 5, 2004.
  26. ^ Meiselas, Susan, Nicaragua June 1978-July 1979, Magnum, 1981; 2008
  27. ^ Hamblett, Mark , "Artist Koons' 'Transformative' Use of Photo Affirmed by 2nd Circuit," New York Law Journal, October 31, 2006
  28. ^ New Paintings Press Release, Winkleman Gallery, January 25, 2008.
  29. ^ Strange Weather Press Release, National Academy of Sciences, December 15, 2006.

External links[edit]