When artists and the legal system collide, the result is bound to be interesting, as this unique collection of essays on famous trials of artists from the Renaissance to the present day shows. Edited by art curatorlawyer Daniel McClean, this crisply written anthology looks at such issues as obscenity, religious sensitivity, aesthetic value, appropriation and artistic freedom within the context of celebrated cases. For example, one essay tells the story of the 1927 seizure by the United States Customs Service of Constantin Brancusi’s sculpture Bird in Space; the government contended that the sculpture was not fine art, and was therefore subject to import duty. Another looks at the 1878 case, a scandal at the time, when Whistler sued the art critic Ruskin for libel. More contemporary cases include the Robert Mapplethorpe obscenity case, the “piss Christ” case, and the trial of J.S.G. Boggs, who was tried as a counterfeiter for his hand-made copies of money. Neither lawyers nor art critics are famous for writing clear, entertaining, enlightening texts – but this wonderful book, with essays from 14 leading academics and lawyers, is a notable exception. Who should have the authority to determine what is art: artists, critics and curators, or lawyers, judges and juries? Should artistic expression always be immune from legal and ethical constraints? Should the law always protect artists and art works? A great look behind the scenes at the art world, and its relationship with government and culture.
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