It will cost taxpayers some $200,000, but Canada’s union with the world’s largest rubber duck didn’t have to be this way.
That’s according to Amsterdam-based Studio Florentijn Hofman, the namesake operation of the 40-year old Dutch installation artist who designed the world famous Rubber Duck sculpture that has been seen in cities around the world since its 2007 debut, and which will call the Toronto waterfront home later this summer as part of the Redpath Waterfront Festival and this year’s Canada 150 celebrations.
In a statement, the studio claimed that the design for the six storey, 13,600 kilogram rubber duck installation was instead licensed by Canadian partners off of Craig Samborski, an event producer who it retained “to assist in the production of our art installation in Los Angeles” and who it alleged is now selling an “illegal counterfeit of real art.”
“Since that time, Mr. Samborski has been using our patterns, our design, and our intellectual property to profit off of what was supposed to be a public art installation,” added the studio’s spokesperson Kim Engbers. “The duck was never supposed to be for profit. It was designed to be a public art installation to bring joy and hope wherever it went.”
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Samborski says the allegations are factually and legally incorrect. “Hofman has zero rights to the concept of enlarged bathtub toys, including our duck,” a spokesperson said on his behalf. “Duck shaped bathtub toys go back at least to the 1930’s, and the design we used is in the public domain, taken from long-ago created designs such as Ernie’s ‘rubber duckie’ made famous in the 1970s on Sesame Street.”
The spokesperson said Hofman had previously tried to charge “exorbitant prices for rudimentary drawings of a duck. We attempted to work with him in 2014, but found the plans he provided to be worthless. We then had our duck professionally redesigned and fabricated, using none of Hofman’s plans. Hofman has since harassed anyone who has displayed an oversized toy duck, apparently in an attempt to extort money and gain notoriety.”
The Redpath Festival, which rented the duck for the $200,000 figure ($120,000 of which is from the province of Ontario), said it was deferring questions about the authenticity of the “World’s Largest Rubber Duck” to Samborski, adding “we were not aware of Mr. Hofman’s claims, but do understand that they are unfounded.”
In a 2015 interview, Samborski said the biggest risk he has ever taken in his life was “purchasing an enormous rubber duck.”
“It was an expensive endeavor to have it built, shipped, and presented in LA,” he continued. “I didn’t have any idea how it would pay off. LA is the place to go big or go home. The duck was going big. Simple concept. Some people think it is dumb. Fortunately, a lot of people think it is cute and fun. It cost me in excess of $200,000. My kids don’t know what to tell their friends that I do for a living.”
Studio Florentijn Hofman went on to allege that Samborski is “stealing joy from the public” by renting the duck at what it said are “exorbitant rates against the wishes of its creator.”
Engbers said, had a Canadian government official contacted the studio, it would have provided the “real duck,” adding “it is unfortunate this due diligence wasn’t completed.”
“It’s an absurd waste of taxpayers’ dollars,” said Rick Nicholls, MPP for Chatham-Kent-Essex in the Ontario Legislature earlier this week. “It is an absolute cluster duck.”