Abstract

This essay examines Cameron Rowland's use of a rental contract to govern the transfer of his artistic work. In asserting that possession of his work will be temporally finite, Rowland draws upon legal scholarship into slavery and colonization as legacies of “propertized” human life and dispossession to recognize how, through the social and legal order, individuals today expect, rely on, and protect historical forms of domination within normalized relations and conditions of exchange of property. Rowland's contract presents new challenges to predominant relations of exchange, capital accumulation, ownership, and racialized dispossession that rely on property law, as well as to prescribed notions of cultural competency and artistic experimentation. This essay tracks Rowland's critical project from the political imperatives and early research questions that motivated his conceptualization of the rental contract, through its use in different exhibition contexts, culminating in the story of how the evolving terms of Rowland's contract steered the Museum of Modern Art in New York's rental of his artistic work. Through an analysis of how the contract was negotiated between the artist, MoMA staff, the museum's acquisitions committee, and legal counsel, this essay reflects on why the agreement represents a significant precedent that complicates established parameters for the ownership of art as legal property.

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