The Legal Medium
Tehching Hsieh imprisoned himself for a year in his studio. Park McArthur battled an artist residency for better wheelchair access. Mary Ellen Carroll exploited Houston's lack of zoning laws to rotate a house 180-degrees. The work of these artists was not necessarily about law. Rather, these artists used law as a material, target, and readymade. They engaged the legal medium.
Artists have been working with the legal medium for decades, perhaps centuries, but this engagement is taking on a distinct importance today. The role of the institution in the Art World is changing. The handful of powerful, centralized institutions are giving way to many new institutions, some of which are not "art institutions" at all. Artists are increasingly working between these institutions - city councils, galleries, museums, fairs, donors, grant-givers, sponsors, schools, and more - to make their work. The process of making a work of art is becoming more entrepreneurial.
Artists often bemoan this shift and wonder how best to hold and nurture an artistic vision while interfacing with so many actors, each with its own intentions and priorities. Indeed, this state of affairs poses new challenges. But it also exposes with greater clarity a range of possibilities. For between institutions, in the contracts, processes, codes, and norms that bind and define them, lies vast creative opportunity. It is where we increasingly find law as medium. To better understand this creative moment, a diverse group of students, artists, and academics launched The Legal Medium - a multidisciplinary, multi-year exploration of the ways in which contemporary artists from diverse backgrounds and disciplines encounter, take advantage of, and seek to mold law. In February 2015, The Legal Medium held its inaugural symposium at Yale Law School. Leading artists and thinkers of our time engaged in panels, presentations, and performances; we also mounted an exhibition of contemporary artworks. The essays in this special edition of the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities were written by the panelists and artists from this inaugural event. They represent the first step in an ongoing effort to grasp The Legal Medium