Guggenheim Painter Accused of Ripping Off Black Artist Admits She Made a ‘Mistake’
Spanish artist Gala Knörr was eager to announce the news. Her Young Cowboy paintings would be on display at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao from July 8 until September 13.
“Guys, been playing it cool, but this is a big deal for me, specially [sic] with this project,” Knörr wrote in an Instagram post.
The images were striking, with its rough finishings and the bold contrast of a young Black cowboy unflinchingly staring at the viewer while set against a stark landscape. Another showed the cowboy’s back as he stared out over a green plain, his white shirt matching the strings wrapped around the hat’s band.
Knörr said she was inspired by the image of Black horsewoman Brianna Noble who protested the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 from the seat of her saddle.
But just days after the exhibit opened, Knörr admitted to Rolling Stone that she made “a mistake” in failing to credit a more direct inspiration — Black Brooklyn-based artist dayday, whose work in Hulu’s Your Attention Please is nearly identical to her paintings that now hang on the walls of the Guggenheim Bilbao.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, the museum confirmed that Knörr did not adequately credit the original work and had come to the “reparative solution” to have dayday’s work displayed alongside Knörr’s paintings. (Through a representative, dayday declined to comment further.)
“The film Blue by dayday will be exhibited along with an artist statement, marking the visible source of inspiration for Knörr,” the museum said in a statement. “By tangibly linking the works together, we can begin to reflect on the dual erasure of the cowboys of the Basque country and African-American cowboys in the United States from history.”
dayday, who uses they/them pronouns, was the director behind a segment that aired in a February episode of the docuseries that featured Ezekiel “Blue” Mitchell, a professional bull rider from Texas — one of the lone Black riders in the sport. The opening shots of Blue show a young Mitchell, portrayed by Isaac Redfearn, looking over green pastures and solemnly gazing back at the camera. Mitchell confirmed to Rolling Stone that he was never contacted by Knörr and hadn’t been made aware of the images.
Nachela Knox, who served as the assistant director on Blue tells Rolling Stone that while Knörr might have had good intentions, she further perpetuated the idea of Black erasure — something her work was critically highlighting.
“She could have used that opportunity to highlight the team or highlight Isaac, and unfortunately, she didn’t,” Knox said. “So, it makes the intention of the art and her message very questionable.”
“I feel people should be held accountable for [their] actions,” Knox added. “While I think that’s a great step that the museum has taken, I would love to see what [Knörr’s] going to say or what she’s going to do as an artist — whether it’s an apology, whether she changes the description or whatever else, but I would love to hear what she has to say because how do you justify what she did?”
Knörr had been part of a joint residency program between New York and Spain’s Guggenheim museums that brought 10 Basque Country artists to New York City. Her previous works have focused on how Basque cowboys’ influence has been overlooked in the history of the American West, and her new Young Cowboy oil paintings were meant to expand that erasure to Black cowboys.
As criticism mounted and side-by-side comparisons of Knörr’s paintings and stills of Blue began circulating, Knörr locked down her Instagram and archived all her posts, except for the post about her Young Cowboy paintings.
When contacted by Rolling Stone, Knörr said her work had always been inspired by social media and pop culture, and referenced her previous works that centered on Black and Basque cowboys.
“I read books and watched documentaries on this topic, and one of them was Blue directed by dayday — inspiration for my paintings,” she wrote in a message. “We have worked in a space of understanding, listening and cooperation.”
And when asked if she had meant to exclude credit to dayday and only referring to an image of Noble as being an inspiration for her paintings, Knörr reiterated that her work is “based on many images and media.”
“This was a very huge mistake I did and explained to dayday that this was not ill intentioned whatsoever, it was me not making sure they were credited and for that, I’m very sorry,” she responded. “[It] was important for me to let them know as we did privately speak and found a space for our work to coexist and dialogue together.”
“I want to thank dayday and Guggenheim for rectifying this in cooperation and kindness,” she added.
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