Artist fights for control of his art

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An artistic drama is playing out this week in an Oslo courtroom, as one of Norway’s leading contemporary artists, known as Pushwagner, battles to regain possession of works he turned over to a former agent 12 years ago. Meanwhile, it emerged Tuesday that he last year turned over control of new works to yet another patron.

Terje Brofos, who goes by the artistic name of Pushwagner, says he’s simply fighting for the rights to his own works, one of the most valuable collections of Norwegian contemporary art. It involves around 2,000 Pushwagner originals, valued at as much as NOK 30 million.

They’ve been under the control, since 1998, of Morten Dreyer, a restaurant owner and former agent and partner of Pushwagner’s. Dreyer has a written agreement, signed by Pushwagner, that transferred ownership of the artworks to Dreyer in return for forgiveness of around NOK 400,000 in loans Dreyer had made to Pushwagner at the time.

Pushwagner now claims he was in no condition to make such an agreement at the time and wants the agreement declared null and void. His attorney, Lars Berntsen, calls the written agreement “unreasonable” and claimed in court that Pushwagner “was a person who couldn’t take care of himself. Dreyer knew that, and that Pushwagner didn’t understand the magnitude of the agreement,” reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv .

Magnus Ødegaard, another lawyer for Pushwagner, testified that his client was homeless and didn’t know what he was doing when he signed away his artworks.

Dreyer strenuously denies he took advantage of Pushwagner and his own attorney claimed Dreyer had supported Pushwagner for 17 years. Dreyer didn’t ask for the agreement, his lawyer Tor Erik Heggøy said. It was Pushwagner who offered that he could take over all of his production,” said Heggøy, to relieve his own conscience.

Dreyer also contends that Pushwagner is coming with his claim much too late. Norwegian law generally holds that agreements must be contested within three years.

On the second day of court action, on Tuesday, it emerged that Pushwagner also signed an agreement with another patron, Stefan Stray, that gives Stray an undefined percentage of income from his art since 1999. Aftenposten.no reported that Pushwagner said he owes Stray “everything” because he’s been living with Stray and only has “my pictures, my paintings” to pay him.

“He (Stray) took me from the gutter to the stars, and has made me a successful artist in my older days,” Pushwagner said in court.

Pushwagner, who has changed his version of events under questioning in court, spent much of Monday sketching the faces of those around him as the proceedings went on. The trial is scheduled to last six days.