The Political Economy of the Prison in Contemporary Art Exhibitions will look at the rise of prison and criminal justice themed visual art exhibitions in the US since 2012. Tracing the recent political and aesthetic history in which the prison has become a new curatorial and arts-funding object, this article will consider the cultural field that has resulted, the precedents that this field has been built upon, and the flourishing of artist projects taking up the US prison system. Both urgent but also fashionable, these initiatives have allowed institutions to position themselves politically, and also respond to critiques of racism in art institutions and in the art world itself.

Ashley Hunt is interested in the disciplinary boundaries that separate our art worlds from the larger worlds in which they sit. His work documents the expansion of the U.S. prison system as it expresses the U.S.’ racial and economic histories and continues to shape social and political life, while working in collaborative and community-based projects that envision and map the world differently. Hunt’s works have been presented at MoMA, the New Museum, Project Row Houses, Diverseworks, Beta Local, the Blackwood Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Hammer Museum, and Documenta 12, as well as in grassroots community centers, prisons, bookstores, spaces of worship, and activist forums in the U.S. and abroad. Recent writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Oxford Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Public Servants: Art and the Crisis of the Common Good, Social Medium: Artists Writing: 2000–2015, X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, and Shifter Magazine. Hunt directs the Program in Photography and Media at CalArts.