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Drake's "Hotline Bling" Video Rips Off Arizona Artist James Turrell, Lisa Sette Says

When Drake premièred his video for "Hotline Bling" through Apple Music on October 19, a lot of things happened. The Internet exploded with memes of his questionable dance moves. The fashion-conscious debated whether chunky knit turtlenecks are poised to make a comeback. And the art world reacted, too. Because the video features a set that, depending on whom you ask, is either an homage to or a blatant rip-off of the work of Arizona-based light artist James Turrell, who has two public art pieces in the Phoenix area and is known for his Roden Crater project outside Flagstaff.

Lisa Sette, the owner of an eponymous Phoenix gallery that represents Turrell, was less than thrilled about the video when asked for her take on the controversy. She talked with New Times by phone on October 22. "I just watched part of it," Sette says. "First of all, the guy can't dance."

The video features direct references to Turrell's 2013-14 retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And that's no coincidence. "I fuck with Turrell," Drake said in a February 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, during which he visited the LACMA show. In the same interview, he mentioned that Turrell's work had influenced the lighting on a recent tour and wondered what it might cost to buy one of Turrell's immersive installations.

But the 72-year-old artist wasn't hired to work on the video, helmed by Director X. 

“While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake fucks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the ‘Hotline Bling’ video," Turrell says in a prepared statement posted online by Donn Zaretsky of John Silberman Associates.

"I don't know whose F-ing with who," Sette says, referencing Turrell's statement with a laugh. "I believe my artist."

While Sette says she doubts that Turrell would take legal action as he's a Quaker, she's surprised that Drake didn't reach out to the artist to collaborate. She says the situation reminds her of when presidential candidates use popular songs for their campaigns without getting an artist's permission first. "It's not the right kind of flattery, in my opinion."

At the very least, Drake should've given Turrell credit. "Is it super disrespectful? Probably. I'm old school," she says. "I believe that if you want to use someone's art, you get their permission. If they say yes, you pay them. If they say no, you don't use it."

There's a copyright to these visual ideas and visual forms, she says. But what's more upsetting is that Drake would rip off work from another artist.

"This is James' intellectual property," she says. "Drake should know better."

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski