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Vanishing Points: Social Inequality and the Law in Recent American Conceptual Art and Poetry

Guo, A. Y. (2023). Vanishing Points: Social Inequality and the Law in Recent American Conceptual Art and Poetry. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


In this thesis, I explore social inequality and the law as represented through recent works of conceptual art and poetry by the American artists, Tehching Hsieh, Andrea Fraser, Cameron Rowland, and Vanessa Place. I proceed through close and contextual readings of a selection of their artworks to consider what they can add to our understanding of a relationship between law and social equality, reflecting on how these artworks are able, and sometimes unable, to cast light on different issues of law and (in)justice, including immigration exclusion, incarceration, and homelessness. I argue that these artists’ works point in different ways toward ‘vanishing points’ beyond which we must look beyond institutions of either art or law for justice.

Part I of this thesis focuses on works made by the Taiwanese American artist Tehching Hsieh between 1978 and 1999, a period in which he was classified as an ‘illegal alien’ in the United States. Hsieh’s performance and conceptual works ironise and subvert the injustice of his social and legal marginalisation. In doing so, they point toward a long history of Chinese immigration exclusion, control, and resistance in the United States, offering a more complete picture of the history of Asian America. The ‘vanishing point’ of Hsieh’s refusal to accept the terms of the art world point toward political possibilities within and outside of art, and within and outside of the law.

Part II of this thesis focuses on works by artists working in the tradition of institutional critique, a post-1960s genre of art concerned with the role of art within society. I consider how works by Andrea Fraser and Cameron Rowland represent museums and prisons as institutional products of class and race inequality, with fraught ramifications for the degree to which art can represent justice. Vanessa Place’s reproduction of material from the Californian criminal justice system likewise brings us to a limit point that forces us to confront what institutions of art, and what institutions of law, cannot offer. Reaching these ‘vanishing points’ likewise reminds us that the possibility of social transformation lies in life outside of institutions.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: K Law > KF United States Federal Law
N Fine Arts
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Departments: The City Law School
The City Law School > The City Law School Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Guo Thesis 2023_redacted PDF-A.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 31 July 2026 due to copyright restrictions.


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