It seems our favorite giant rubber duck is in deep trouble again! Following its deflating experience at Taoyuan, it has risen to the headlines again while visiting Keelung, the last stop of its Taiwan tour. This time around, not only was it put up to the trials of bad weather, a series of marketing and planning hiccups due to miscommunication with the art piece’s creator put the big yellow fellow through a whirlwind of media reports. But what exactly went wrong?
The infamous giant duck has been on tour in Taiwan since September and arrived in Keelung City in northern Taiwan on 21 December. During its previous stops at Kaohsiung and Taoyuan, its creator, Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, never failed to make an appearance at the respective opening ceremonies. But a series of planning miscommunications and copyright infringement issues caused by the Keelung organizers’ planning team ruffled his feathers, and Hofman cancelled his trip to Taiwan to show his displeasure.
Hoping to ensure a raving success, the Keelung organizers hired Keqing Fan, who has the reputation of being Taiwan’s marketing prodigy, to plan the event. Doing what he does best, Fan came up with a grand plan to bring in the crowds and the money. But it seems that the artist’s welfare was not part of the great plan, as it was reported that Hofman and his family were put up at a cheap motel when he first came to survey the exhibition site in the initial planning stages.
▼ Keqing Fan under fire at a press conference.
First, Fan proposed the idea of making the gigantic artifact rotate to music, like one of those twirling ballerinas in a music box. Due to miscommunication issues, Hofman belatedly found out about the fancy idea and put an emergency stop to the preparations merely six days before the opening ceremony, commenting that the idea went against the art piece’s concept of simplicity and tranquility.
Next came a big mess of unauthorized duck-inspired merchandise such as stickers, cellphone accessories, T-shirts and more. According to Fan, similar unauthorized merchandise were sold during the giant duck’s stop at other places including Hong Kong, but Hofman only gave them vague replies when they initially asked him about how he was going to deal with such instances. The last straw came for Hofman when the team rolled out smart cards (cards with stored value that can be used for transportation and payment) with the words “exclusive rights” printed on them. According to the artist, in his contract with the organizers, he specifically gave rights to only one figurine design.
▼ This is the officially authorized mini duck.
The makers of the ducky smart cards, the Taiwan Smart Card Corporation, were quick to stop the retailing of the cards and even promised to make full refunds to any customers who wished to return the unauthorized merchandise. They also expressed the intention to leave all the yellow duck cards at Hofman’s disposal, adding that the artist could donate them if he wanted to, since that would comply to the cheerful sculpture’s theme of “happiness”.
▼ The duck design smart cards will be donated in full quantity to Hofman.
But that was not the end of things. Hofman also strongly objected to Fan’s intention of selling entrance tickets at two of the five exhibition areas, calling the entire event a “commercial circus“. In order to appease Hofman, the organizers immediately pulled Fan off the team, and the exhibition was launched on schedule, albeit amidst the less-than-pleasant media frenzy and heavily pouring rain.
▼ One of the intended ticketing exhibitions featured the yellow ducks dressed in different ethnic costumes.
▼ The other intended ticketing exhibition features a 6ft-tall duck sculpture made up of 5,000 balloons.
▼ And a giant bathtub.
▼ And… a balloon sculpture of a Chinese temple for local interest.
The Keelung organizers publicly apologized to Hofman for the unpleasant happenings, stating that they were under the impression that the goods proposed by Fan had been authorized by the artist. But having been forced off the team, Fan refused to take it lying down, aggressively claiming that “the yellow rubber duck has been around since they were kids, hence he (Hofman) does not have any exclusive rights to it”, and taunted the artist further, stating, “if Hofman wants to be so strict, do the shops selling Jiang Mu Ya (duck braised with ginger, a popular local dish) in the vicinity need to get his permission too?!”
Fan also mentioned that the artist’s official merchandise are not legally registered in Taiwan, and there are more than 50 rubber duck motif products currently licensed in Taiwan, so the exclusive copyright infringement claims are irrelevant. He also spills that even though Hofman is so adamantly against the commercialization of the exhibition, the artist himself is receiving huge amounts of profits from royalties. Moreover, Fan commented, “the organizers have purchased 13,000 units of the giant duck’s official figurine, and that in and of itself is a form of commercialization”.
The event organizers have agreed to stop all commercial retailing of unauthorized duck merchandise, and announced that they would handle all offenders, including Fan, with legal methods.
It is somewhat disappointing that the supposedly happy and simplistic sculpture got wrapped into such an ugly mess. But the good news is the storm of problems has calmed down and the exhibition still goes on until 8 February 2014! So if you’re headed for Taiwan any time soon, you can still catch a glimpse of the famous duck in Keelung!