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Members of Velvet Underground Lou Reed and John Cale are suing the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts over their commercial use of the famed banana logo. Controversy about the ownership of the image unraveled after the Warhol Foundation began profiting off merchandise that featured the logo.
For those unfamiliar with the connection between Warhol’s banana and the Velvet Underground, it served as the album artwork for their highly influential 1966 album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. The words “PEEL SLOWLY AND SEE” that appeared on Warhol’s banana are equally resonant to the world of pop art and rock and roll music.
Andy Warhol served as both manager and producer to the Velvet Underground, counseling their image and propelling them onward in the public sphere. When Warhol died in 1987, the foundation was set up as a way of managing his legacy. Since then, it has become clear that Warhol’s images are still valuable to commercial advertisers.
The banana has been properly licensed for commercial use in the past, such as the Absolut Underground banana promoted by Absolut Vodka in a recent album covers ad series, but Lou Reed and John Cale are claiming that the appearance of the banana on iPad cases and accessories has been done without the band’s consent.
In the lawsuit filed at Manhattan federal court, the banana was deemed “a symbol, truly an icon, of the Velvet Underground.” Reed and Cale claim that the foundation’s use of the image has worked to “deceive the public” into thinking that the band is endorsing these products. The Warhol Foundation makes over $2.5 million a year in licensing Warhol’s images for commercial use and the band has noted that the banana logo is only one of Warhol’s many images that are valuable to the commercial world. The issue reminds us of the potential damage that the commercial re-appropriation of an image can do to a legacy.