Bryony White (KCL) - 2016-17 Students

‘From Margins to Market: Performance, Contemporary Art and the Law’

My doctoral project starts from the premise that performance is not protected under intellectual property law, yet also acknowledges that the law is, as art lawyer Daniel McClean argues, ‘pivotal’ in the articulation and ownership of performance works within the gallery and museum sector. The complicated legal processes and diverse methods available to acquire performance are becoming increasingly significant in ensuring certain forms of performance are deemed ‘legitimate’ in the eyes of the gallery sector and the global art market and industry. Bearing in mind that this institutional embrace of performance is a fraught area, I argue that it becomes even more necessary to undertake this study, which seeks to elucidate how the law has deeply shaped the history of performance and contemporary art practice. There is yet to have been a substantial discussion of how the legal procedures in the very acts of performance display, programming and acquisition profoundly influence and impact upon the work, and this thesis will fundamentally redress this gap.

This thesis will explore how the law is and has been, constitutive of how performance and contemporary art practices function and circulate from the 1960s onwards. This thesis asks: how and why has the law been central to the articulation and ownership of performance, body art and contemporary live art in the last 40 years?; how have artists used, navigated and subverted legal processes, such as trademark law, copyright and contract in their practices, as both a practical and logistical issue, as well as aesthetic and formal device?; why have certain artists embraced the law as a method to ensure their commercial viability and why have other artists fundamentally challenged its structures?

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