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Trespassory Art


Randall P. Bezanson


University of Iowa College of Law

Andrew Finkelman


affiliation not provided to SSRN

January 15, 2010

University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Vol. 43, p. 245, 2010
U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-17

Abstract:     
The history of art is replete with examples of artists who have broken from existing conventions and genres, redefining the meaning of art and its function in society. Our interest is in emerging forms of art that trespass - occupy space, place, and time as part of their aesthetic identity. These new forms of art, which we call trespassory art, are creatures of a movement that seeks to appropriate cultural norms and cultural signals, reinterpreting them to create new meaning. Marcel DuChamp produced such a result when, in the early twentieth century, he took a urinal, signed his name to it, titled it Fountain, and called it art.

Whether they employ 21st century technologies, such as lasers, or painting, sculpture and mosaic, music, theatre, or merely the human body, these new artists share one thing in common. Integral to their art is the physical invasion of space, the trespass, often challenging our conventional ideas of location, time, ownership, and artistic expression. Their art requires not only borrowing the intellectual assets of others, but their physical assets. This is trespassory art - art that redefines and reinterprets space - art that gives new meaning to a park bench, to a billboard, to a wall, to space itself.

Our purpose is to propose a modified regime in the law of trespass to make room for the many new forms of art with which we are concerned - art that is locationally dependent or site specific. We begin by briefly describing and characterizing these often-new artistic forms. This provides a jumping off point for addressing the basic question this article seeks to address - should the law accommodate these new types of art, and if so, to what degree? We first turn to the law of trespass, with particular focus on real property, both public and private, but also with an eye to personal and intellectual property. We conclude that adjusting trespass remedies for artistic trespass through a set of common law privileges would better balance the competing interests of owners and artists than do current trespass rules. We then turn to a set of constitutional issues and conclude that our common law proposal is consistent with, and in some ways perhaps required by, the First Amendment. Finally, we summarize our proposal and then revisit the value of trespassory art as art in our creative culture.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 79

Keywords: First Amendment, free speech, freedom of speech, art, aesthetics, torts, property, common law, incitement, blasphemy, performance art

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Date posted: April 24, 2009 ; Last revised: January 29, 2010

Suggested Citation

Bezanson, Randall P. and Finkelman, Andrew, Trespassory Art (January 15, 2010). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Vol. 43, p. 245, 2010; U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-17. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1393290

Contact Information

Randall P. Bezanson (Contact Author)
University of Iowa College of Law ( email )
Boyd Law Building
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States
319-335-9171 (Phone)
319-335-9098 (Fax)
Andrew Finkelman
affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )
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