Winner of $25,000 Parkin Prize denies plagiarizing similar artwork of the same name

The winner of this year's Parkin Drawing Prize has denied plagiarizing an artwork with the exact same title made by a US artist last year. 

Poppy Lekner's minimalist artwork 'Forward Slash' took out New Zealand's premiere award for drawing with a $25,000 cash prize on Monday. 

The work features thousands of forward slashes on a white A4 piece of paper, made using a manual typewriter - the same method used by Denver artist Joel Swanson in his piece of the same name, made in 2019. 

Left: Joel Swanson's 2019 work 'Forward Slash', Right: Poppy Lekner's award-winning 2020 work 'Forward Slash'.
Left: Joel Swanson's 2019 work 'Forward Slash', Right: Poppy Lekner's award-winning 2020 work 'Forward Slash'. Photo credit: Joel Swanson, Poppy Lekner

Swanson's 'Forward Slash' can be seen on a Denver art collective website called the Octopus Initiative and in a post on his Instagram account dated January 17, 2019. 

The similarities between the artworks were pointed out by local artist Alan MacDonald on his Facebook page, where he called Lekner's work "an exact copy" of Swanson's. 

But Lekner insists she was only made aware of Swanson's piece last night, telling Newshub her work was "made in good faith". 

"I had no idea I would be selected as a finalist let alone be awarded a prize for my entry," Lekner said.

"My work is mostly cameraless photography and this area I know comprehensively but even in my main field of practice I couldn’t tell you about every work being made around the world."

Lekner said "this kind of parallel experimentation can happen", adding that she had once been informed by a friend of a UK artist who had made a work very similar to hers without knowing it existed. 

A statement given to Newshub from the Parkin Prize's head judge Charlotte Davy said the judging panel were confident the similarities were coincidental. 

"The judging process for the prize is rigorous, with a panel of experts who have a broad understanding of many types of art including machine made art, ASCII art etc," Davy said. 

"The panel are researching and giving consideration to broader context as part of the judging process. We are confident that there has been no plagiarism with the prize winning work - in our view the similarities are coincidental and the artists are each working in a different context with differing concerns."

Speaking to Newshub about her win this week, Lekner said she had created the work just one day before submissions closed, and was "pleased and surprised" to have won the prestigious award.