An artist whose quirky Space Owl features prominently in Meow Wolf’s wildly successful interactive art exhibit is suing the company and its founder for copyright infringement.
Lauren Adele Oliver says in her lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court that the art collective convinced her to install a sculpture of Space Owl in its House of Eternal Return by offering her membership in the group and an “artist revenue share,” the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.
But after the exhibit became a multimillion-dollar enterprise — thanks in part to Space Owl, the lawsuit says.
Oliver said the group then backpedaled and offered her a choice between selling the character outright for pennies on the dollar or removing it without any additional compensation.
Attorney Jesse A. Boyd said Oliver is looking to be “compensated fairly” for her contribution to the success of the House of Eternal Return — which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. He said Oliver is seeking “more than a million dollars.”
Meow Wolf co-founder Vince Kadlubek, who is also named a defendant in the lawsuit, referred questions to Meow Wolf Vice President of Marketing Didi Bethurum. In an email Tuesday, Bethurum said the company is “disappointed by these baseless allegations.”
“Meow Wolf is committed to supporting artists and providing fair treatment to every person we collaborate with,” Bethurum wrote. “These claims run completely counter to our culture and we will vigorously defend against them through the legal process.”
According to her complaint, Oliver created Space Owl — an owl-like alien — in 2006. In 2012, after she had created a narrative around it, several digital versions of it and displayed it in a local art show, Meow Wolf approached her about incorporating it into House of Eternal Return.
Oliver said she did not pursue the idea until the collective approached her again in 2015 and asked her to install her climate change-themed art project Ice Station Quellette featuring Space Owl in the House of Eternal Return.
“The installation was a filthy, full-time job involving months of late nights, grueling, dangerous work and the expenditure of Oliver’s own money,” the lawsuit says. “Oliver put every ounce of love and energy she had into the installation … with the result being an angelic, 13-foot tall Space Owl, which observers describe as alive, sentient and real.”