Little Artist Versus Big Dealer in Sidewalk Showdown
By Randy Kennedy
The New York Times, November 12, 2005

Eric Doeringer is an artist who makes paintings. But he does not exactly obsess over them, wrestling Pollock-like with his muse. In fact, as he explained the other day, "I make them in batches - so I can usually do somewhere from 6 to 15 in a day."

"It's like an assembly line," he said cheerfully.

The outlet for this painting factory has been a popular vending table that Mr. Doeringer has set up every Saturday for the last four years in the heart of the Chelsea gallery district. It is stacked high with tiny canvases that he openly calls bootlegs - faithful miniatures of works by contemporary artists like Richard Prince and Lisa Yuskavage, whose paintings may be on sale within a few blocks for tens of thousands of dollars. Mr. Doeringer's usually sell for less than $100.

But his brisk trade as the fake-Fendi man of the art world may be coming to an end, at least in its present location.

Last Saturday, the police arrived at his spot, on West 24th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, and politely asked him to leave, saying that they had received a complaint about unlicensed vendors. Mr. Doeringer protested, saying that he had a First Amendment right to ply his wares: federal court cases in recent years have upheld such a right for street artists. But the police insisted, so he packed his paintings and folded up his table.

Then he angrily marched a hundred feet or so to confront the man he was sure had dropped the dime on him: Mike Weiss, the owner of a high-end gallery that bears his name.

"He had come over to me the week before," said Mr. Doeringer, 31, "and basically told me that he didn't like me being near his gallery, that it didn't look good."

Mr. Doeringer said officials at Luhring Augustine, Barbara Gladstone and other well-known galleries had been quite friendly to him over the years and had even bought his work. In four years, he said, he had had "no problems other than the occasional thunderstorm, gust of wind or diarrhetic pigeon." But when he recently moved to the south side of the street near Mr. Weiss's gallery, he said, the owner disliked him from the start.

"I guess it wasn't part of his vision for that side of the street," he said.

Mr. Weiss warned Mr. Doeringer not to come back.

Mr. Doeringer, of course, had no intention of staying away.

And thus began a Chelsea art standoff that says a lot about the relative values of art and real estate in a booming market for both.

In a recent interview, Mr. Weiss confirmed that, yes, he had called the police. He said he did so for reasons that might be condemned in the art world but that made perfect sense for any businessman like himself who has to pay a huge rent.

"We've seen what happens in SoHo," Mr. Weiss said of street vendors. "Where there's one, then there's two and three and four."

He added: "Let's say I own a Victoria's Secret and then there's someone outside selling fake lingerie and bras. It just detracts from what you're doing."

Of Mr. Doeringer's art itself, he said he did not want to pass judgment but then immediately did. It is not even original in its appropriation, he said, noting that this is an art-world idea that has been explored thoroughly by many artists already. (Only two artists have complained about the "bootlegs," the artist said, and in those cases he stopped copying their work.)

"Personally," Mr. Weiss said, "I think he's an opportunist and that he just wants his 15 minutes."

Mr. Doeringer - whose artwork also includes fake museum identification cards (the better to get you in free at the Museum of Modern Art) and exact replicas of Ralph Lauren Polo shirts - says he wants much more than 15 minutes but also likes to be able to pay his own rent.

"When I started this, it was completely a conceptual thing," he said. "But since I've started it has evolved into something that's allowed me to pay the bills - which is really nice." (On a good day at the painting stand, he said, he can earn up to $1,500; two bootlegged John Currin paintings of sexy women have been among his best sellers. "People like the pretty girls," he said.)

Mr. Doeringer, who is in Los Angeles this weekend for an exhibition of his work, usually calls it quits for the year when the weather gets too cold, and he said he had been thinking hard about quitting the vending game for good come next spring.

"But now," he said, "I think I'm sort of determined to get back out there - just on principle."

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