Artist Willie Cole calls the Met Gala’s plastic water bottle chandeliers “a blatant rip off” of his work

“Flattery or Thievery?”

Artist Willie Cole calls the Met Gala’s plastic water bottle chandeliers “a blatant rip off” of his work

Willie Cole Spirit Catcher, 2022 (Courtesy the artist)

Artist Willie Cole has called out the striking similarity between his water bottle chandeliers and those designed for this year’s Met Gala by architect Tadao Ando.

Cole shared via his Instagram account that he received numerous messages about the similarities between the light fixtures hanging over the red carpet at Monday night’s event and his own works. This includes Spirit Catcher and Lumen-less Lantern, which are currently on display at Express Newark, where he is currently an artist-in-residence. In his post Cole called the act “a blatant rip off” and posed the question: “Is this flattery or thievery?”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Willie cole (@williecoleart)

Curator Ellen Hawley, who has previously worked with Cole, also raised the issue of plagiarism on her Instagram. Hawley noted that Cole has other works in the Met’s collection, and that a museum gift shop sells products featuring his designs.

“Interestingly, Willie wasn’t asked to be involved to collaborate on this installation, nor asked for his permission to use the likeness of his art … The fashion and art worlds face copycat challenges all the time. This seems like a blatant copy – at the Met of one of their exhibiting artists,” she continued in her post.

Both works were designed to address issues related to climate change. Cole’s pieces currently on view at Express Newark respond to the city’s water crisis. In 2019, Newark opened drinking water centers for residents to pick up single-use plastic bottles to use in lieu of the lead contaminated drinking water flowing through the city’s pipes.

Event planner Raul Àvila, who has overseen the Met Gala’s decor since 2007, highlighted the sustainability of this year’s decorations in a recent interview with Vogue, saying: “Given today’s climate, we wanted to highlight the importance of giving our everyday items more than one life cycle. We wanted to find a way to create a sustainable design that would implement the bottles into a breathtaking installation unlike anything we’ve done before.”

At the Met Gala, plastic water bottles were also fashioned into a wall lining the red carpet to separate the press from the arriving and parading guests. The recycled objects were also used to create a large-scale installation staged within the museum’s Great Hall. According to the Met, all of the bottles will “be re-recycled for future uses.”

Ando was commissioned to execute the exhibition design for this year’s Met costume show, which focuses on the work and legacy of the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty exhibits clothing, sketches, and video interviews of Lagerfeld’s work. The exhibition opens tomorrow and runs through July 16.

Cole’s water bottle chandeliers are on view at Express Newark through February 2, 2024.