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Contemporary Art in the Aftermath of Legal Positivism: The ‘Other’ Contract Art as Material Jurisprudence

Parsley, Connal (2022) Contemporary Art in the Aftermath of Legal Positivism: The ‘Other’ Contract Art as Material Jurisprudence. Pólemos: Journal of Law, Literature and Culture, 16 (2). pp. 247-270. ISSN 2036-4601. (doi:10.1515/pol-2022-2016) (KAR id:101252)

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A growing movement in contemporary art takes legal forms and materials as its subject matter. In this article, I argue that a key strand of this ‘legal turn’ should be historicised in two entwined ways. It can be seen as an extension and re-formalisation of some central concerns of late twentieth-century contemporary art; namely relational and participatory aesthetics, and the dematerialisation of the art object. But the artworks considered here can also be analysed as a fragmentary site of ‘juristic subjectivity’ in the aftermath of legal positivism. According to Carl Schmitt, the positivisation that took hold in the nineteenth century exiled the jurist from their role in formally elaborating the substantive law created by social praxis—turning the jurist into a “mere scholar” in relation to law. In this sense, the separation of juristic thought from law is the aftermath of this destructive event. Yet the etymology of aftermath also links it to a secondary growth that re-emerges after a mowing or harvest. Similarly, the ‘contract artists’ analysed here evidence a ‘regrowth’ of juristic thought that relies precisely on its position outside of law ‘properly so-called’, and inside the conditions of contemporary artistic production and consumption. Analysing contract artworks by artists Adrian Piper and A Constructed World, this article suggests that they differ markedly from the contract art, usually connected to the Siegelaub-Projansky agreement, that has received the majority of academic attention. Whereas that so-called “legal moment in artistic production” prioritises the author function, the abstraction of value, and the commodification of social relations, through the above double historicization I will argue that this ‘other’ contract art repurposes legal forms to institute a lived experience of juristic social relations, presenting a new kind of material jurisprudence.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1515/pol-2022-2016
Uncontrolled keywords: art/law, art, contract art, material jurisprudence, Adrian Piper, A Constructed World, positivism, contemporary legal thought, Carl Schmitt, commodification, dematerialisation, participatory art, juristic thought, social relations, Siegelaub-Projansky
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
K Law > K Law (General)
N Visual Arts > N Visual arts (General). For photography, see TR
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Connal Parsley
Date Deposited: 12 May 2023 12:59 UTC
Last Modified: 15 May 2023 09:53 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Parsley, Connal:
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