Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Art and Law In Dire Need of Relevancy

Slide image, The Legal Medium, Sergio Munoz Sarmiento (2015).

Slide image, The Legal Medium, Sergio Munoz Sarmiento (2015).

I’ve been meaning to jot down some thoughts on last weekend’s art and law conference at Yale Law School. This morning I read Colby Chamberlain’s remarks via Artforum, and I must say he is seriously on-point. The ramblings of lawyers (Hoffman), the aloof super-star panelists (Goldsmith and Balkin), and the branding of the conference are all quite true.

I must add though (and if you’re interested in art and law you should be paying attention here), that there is much, much more to art and law than copyright and fair use, and there are artists other than Richard Prince and Jeff Koons in need of legal and scholarly support (where were all the pro-appropriationists when Lauren Clay came around?).

Given that the gap between art and law is already wide enough and in need of some serious bridging, the real issue for us art and law folk to address is one of relevancy. What does it mean to be relevant? What topics are and are not relevant? What can we do, collectively, to address pressing and timely issues to not only further cultural production, but to humanize the practice and study of law?

Let me give you one example. The fact that artists and art critics always apologize for “not being lawyers” but the converse is rarely true (legal scholars always feel free to opine on art and art history, albeit usually with the household brands Duchamp, Pollock, and Warhol) says much about the amount of work yet to be done in this nascent field. And when lawyers and legal scholars (Hoffman and Balkin, respectively) drone on about inconsequential issues (strict scrutiny) or impart their knowledge in a patronizing and condescending manner, artists and art scholars are sure to turn a deaf ear–and who would blame them?  Balkin, a First Amendment scholar, delivered a pompous diatribe on rights of publicity that could not have come at a worst–or more irrelevant–moment. How out-to-lunch do you have to be, even up in New Haven, to not notice that we’re currently living in a world where media and artistic censorship and self-censorship are at an all-time high?

I’m working on a text piece that will elaborate a bit more on this. For now, let’s just end with this: this conference was good; the next one will be better. Stay tuned!


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