So, Sue Me

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The utilization of ready-made content is a powerful current in contemporary art, taking the form of such practices as parody, rephotography, photomontage, simulation, and quotation. Whether used in part or in whole, appropriated imagery is often intended to question meaning and originality in contemporary culture. Yet, despite its ubiquity, the incorporation of pre-existing imagery is not without risk. Since the 1960s, copyright cases have escalated among notable artists, such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. In many such cases, the unlicensed reusage of imagery plays a strong role in the creation of message, particularly with works intended to be a commentary on consumerism or popular culture. Yet, some artists, such as American photographer Richard Prince, seem to create artworks in order to invite legal reprisal, as if ensuing copyright lawsuits are the true subject matter, not the appropriated content itself. The purpose of this article is to explore and introduce a new artistic category, which the author classifies as legal performance art. Participants range from legal counsel and the judiciary to members of the press and the consuming public. Pleadings, exhibits, and press coverage become part of conceptual framework of the performance. This radical shift in venue and scope challenges the traditional definition of the artwork, fragmenting it amongst countless sites, thereby revolutionizing the concepts of production, participation, and viewership.