"Property in Modern Aesthetics," grapples with how discourses of race, gender and class affected US literary and visual modernist forms. I examine art objects ranging from Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917) and Noah Purifoy's White/Colored (2001) to texts such as Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson (1985) and Don Mee Choi's The Morning News Is Exciting (2010). Utilizing critical gender, race and legal scholarship, I trace how legal notions of exclusionary properties situate the politics of modern abstract forms. Modernist artistic and literary productions were the historical manifestations of US racial and gender formations, and I argue that the abstract forms of modernist art and literature were politically consistent with early 20th-century property laws. The modernist found-object form can be understood as the aestheticization of property. Inspecting the aestheticization of property as a formal imperative allows for analyses of historical and political strictures, and for the production of diverse cultural narratives to converge.
In order to investigate visual and literary production that expounds colonial and legal understandings of property, I contrast canonical, modernist approaches with Black and Asian American cultural producers whose bodies of work interrogate the very premise of property, by re-imaging provenance beyond its current origin/financial narrative. In my project, Black and Asian American cultural producers, though marginalized by current canonical constructs, are poets and artists currently offering modes of expression outside systems of the colonial imaginary. I contextualize the interactions of individual poets and artistic movements with and against the social movements of their time, offering a broader view of US visual cultures and poetics.