Research Handbook on Art and Law
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Research Handbook on Art and Law

Edited by Jani McCutcheon and Fiona McGaughey

Featuring international contributions from leading and emerging scholars, this innovative Research Handbook presents a panoramic view of how law sees visual art, and how visual art sees law. It resists the conventional approach to art and law as inherently dissonant – one a discipline preoccupied with rationality, certainty and objectivity; the other a creative enterprise ensconced in the imaginary and inviting multiple, unique and subjective interpretations. Blending these two distinct disciplines, this unique Research Handbook bridges the gap between art and law.
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Chapter 6: The curator’s copyright

Alana Kushnir


The role of the curator has evolved in parallel with the development of contemporary art. No longer solely a caretaker of objects in an institutional collection, the curator is a caretaker of artists, audiences, artworks and the relationships in-between. With this expanded role, the line between the curator and the artist is increasingly blurred. Today the curator should be recognised as an auteur (or author) of exhibitions and associated programming. Where their methodology incorporates the output of the artist (or sometimes, even the artist themselves) the curator creates all-encompassing Gesamtkunstwerks – total works of art. This chapter considers how the curator can rely on the laws of copyright and moral rights to protect such total works of art. It does so to suggest that if these laws can protect such output, then the law could recognise the curator as an auteur. This chapter considers the paucity of case law dealing (albeit obliquely) with these issues, and a number of case studies investigating a specific genealogy of curatorial practice – the restaging and reinterpretation of historical exhibitions. In the absence of any clear judicial precedent, these restaged and recreated exhibitions draw attention to the fact that when it comes to curatorial practice, copyright and moral rights issues are present, albeit rarely addressed. Nevertheless, these exhibitions take important stands on the notion of contemporary authorship. They suggest that the central concerns of today’s curators are the right to be attributed and the right to not have their creative output treated in a derogatory manner, more so than the exclusive rights of copyright per se.

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