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Dead on the Vine: Living and Conceptual Art and Vara

79 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2009  

Charles Cronin

ISP/Yale Law School

Date Written: August 24, 2009


The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), arriving in the wake of U.S. adherence to the Berne Convention, provides moral rights of integrity and attribution to artists who have created certain copyrightable physical works of visual art. Since - and before - the time of VARA’s enactment, however, many artists have been working with genres and media to produce art that is not comfortably accommodated within the scope of protected works contemplated by VARA. An increasing number of recent works of Conceptual and Appropriationist Art raise questions about fixation and original expression that are required for copyrightability that, in turn, is required for protection under VARA. This article discusses the uncomfortable fit of VARA and many contemporary works of art, and particularly those that incorporate to a significant extent living works in their natural state. The discussion focuses on the recent decision in a dispute involving a VARA claim in a living landscape (Chapman Kelley v. Chicago Park District, N.D. Ill., 2008). It concludes that works of art in which nature and chance play a dominant role are Conceptual works in which the artist’s contribution is limited to ideas that should not be protected by copyright or VARA.

Suggested Citation

Cronin, Charles, Dead on the Vine: Living and Conceptual Art and Vara (August 24, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Charles Cronin (Contact Author)

ISP/Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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