Orlan Takes Her $31.7 Million Lawsuit Against Lady Gaga and Her “Born This Way” Head Lumps to NY


If you were previously familiar with French artist Orlan’s body modification art, you wouldn’t have been crazy for seeing some similarities to the self-sculptor’s work in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” video and album art.

Perhaps most familiar with Orlan’s work was Orlan herself, who as Page Six reports, filed a suit in Paris in 2013 for 7.5 percent of the profits of Gaga’s 2011 album (a sum that would have amounted to $31.7 million). Now, the artist’s lawyers are taking the case to New York City, seeking subpoenas to depose Nicola Formichetti and Billy Brasfield, who respectively conceived the fashion and makeup for the video.

The depositions would look into where they got the ideas for the prosthetic head-lumps Lady Gaga famously wore on the album cover and in the video — lumps that may or may not be imitative of similar lumps implanted in Orlan’s face for her plastic surgery epic, “Carnal Art,” for which the artist underwent nine surgeries only under a local anesthetic, filmed them, and read poetry during the process.

Interestingly, Orlan’s whole face itself became, through that project, an imitation of other artists’ work — it was displaying a composite of famous male artists’ ideals of female beauty. Orlan, however, has always acknowledged imitation as a central part of her art and her interrogation and display of beauty standards. Orlan’s U.S. lawyers, Peter Stern and Alan Sash, said:

Whether in France or in the United States, Orlan’s unique artwork should be protected. We hope that questioning members of Lady Gaga’s creative team will aid the French court in deciding the case.

Meanwhile, Gaga’s representative said:

This is nothing but an attempt by the plaintiff to generate US press coverage around a meritless case that was filed in France several years ago.

Of course, body modification is not uncommon, and people put all kinds of things in their faces all the time, so it’s hard to say that one lump is imitating another. But Orlan and her lawyers note and are questioning a combination of a series of images and motifs. “Orlan’s entire universe of hybridizations was copied in the Born This Way album, such as giving birth to oneself, which is seen in Orlan’s photography series Orlan accouche d’elle-m’aime (1964-66),” noted Orlan’s French attorney Philippe Dutilleul-Francoeur in Artinfo, back when the suit was first filed. There, he gave a detailed rundown of their reasoning:

We are suing the American singer in Paris civil court for forging two works by Orlan. The first is the sculpture Bumpload (1989), which is extremely similar to the cover of Lady Gaga’s album Born This Way. […] The second work is Woman With Head (1996), which was used by Lady Gaga in the first seconds of her video for “Born This Way.” [Both are pictured above] In it we see the singer’s head placed on Plexiglas and surrounded with decapitated heads, like Orlan’s head in Woman With Head. […] But notice that we’re not attacking Lady Gaga for having copied Orlan’s look, which is an ethical and not a legal issue. We’re accusing her of having forged her artworks, that is, of reproducing them illegally. […] That is part of intellectual property law.

In that same discussion, the interviewer had interrogated the attorney about why Orlan had waited over two years to sue, and he’d said that “it’s always hard to decide to appeal to the judicial system when you’re dealing with such a famous person as Lady Gaga.” He’d claimed Orlan had been upset by the fact that Lady Gaga had never asked for permission or given her a phone call.

[Via Artnet News]