Back in the 1960s, some of us were taking drugs, rubbing genders, and sampling global religions in what we saw as Western-style binary thinking, making a view of the world stricter. The opposite was based on good, bad, right-wrong: white vs. black, straight vs. gay, us vs. theirs. Five decades later, such thinking still reigns in a red-blue nation, making the retrospective event of Lorraine O’Grady’s career at the Brooklyn Museum a major corrective event.
The artist either flags his resistance in the very title of his show: “Lorraine O’Grady: Both / and.” In what has been a long career, she is now 86 years old – she has consistently shaped her art on a different model, one of a balanced back-and-peer duo: personal and political; Home and the world; Anger and happiness; Rock-solid idea and light formal touch.
Although the show’s organizers – Katherine Morris, a senior curator at the museum, writer Aruna D’Souza, and Ginneri-Daria Strand, a curatorial assistant – showcased their art through several galleries across four floors, we’re not in blockbuster country here. . The bulk of this survey could possibly be squeezed into a pair of carry-on suitcases. Most of his major works were one-sided performances that now survive in the form of photographs and handwritten notes.
Writing is an important element in his work. His initial project, dating from 1977 and marking his debut as a visual artist at the age of 45, is a set of collage-poems composed of phrases associated with The New York Times issues. Cases filled with archival material, as well as their appearance – yellowing letters, lists, charts, statements – it experienced a slump, and favored eye-candy online for a year after a fiber-rich meal.
And his art is the product of a textured personal history, with some straight-forward lines. O’Raddy was born in Boston, the second daughter of Jamaican immigrants. She grew up in Rossbury, a neighborhood of newly arrived black, Irish and Jewish populations, located just a few blocks from the city’s main branch of the Boston Public Library and Museum of Fine Arts. As a child, O’Grady spent a lot of time with both, with his initial interest in keeping him inclined to literature.
After graduating from college, where he studied in economics and languages, he went on to have a relevant writing-focused career. He worked as a researcher and translator for the Labor Department in Washington, then moved to Europe to start a novel. In the early 1970s, she was contributing to giving a rock review at The Village Voice in New York City, and teaching courses on Dada and Sarlist at the School of Visual Arts. In short, he had a different “both / and” life, to which, in 1977, he added artmaking.
It started almost casually. After a medical procedure that year he thanked his doctor with the gift of a homemade valentine: a multi-collage-poem composed of phrases he had found from the Sunday New York Times. Then, for himself, he made two dozen in the next six months. Three are performing on the fourth floor of the original Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, where most of the show is set up. In this context, they symbolize a life that is, at this point, in itself a set of interests and influences.
The next logical step was to introduce himself to the professional scene. What he faced was actually a level of isolation. He did not have time as a self-described Caribbean African-American in a predominantly white mainstream art world. She had little place as a woman in the small, tightly knit, mostly male black art world. The white, middle-class feminist art movement entered but kept it at arm’s length.
Aristocratically, his response was to strike rather than retreat, and he did so through art: a guerrilla-style performance in the personality of Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (“Miss Black Middle Class”), an old but quarrelsome and blunt The beauty queen who wore a gown stitched with formal white gloves and was invited to public art events.
In the guise, in 1980, he crashed an opening in Just-Abbott Midtown, a Manhattan gallery with an all-black roster, shouting “Black art should take more risks!” He then made an appearance at the opening of the performing arts all-white show at the New Museum, where he challenged the institute’s claim to be an “alternative venue” and declared that “an invasion” was imminent.
Mlle Bourgeoise Noire’s white-glove gown is on the Brooklyn show, as are a series of photographs depicting the appearance of her new museum. Reducing high resentment and slyness, black feminists feel these now-classic gestures of space-claim ahead of their time, as does a second major performance a few years later.
In 1983, after a colleague in the feminist movement stated that “avant-garde art has nothing to do with black people,” O’Grady participated in the annual Afro-American Day Parade in Harlem to demonstrate otherwise decided . For a performance piece titled “Art Is …”, he hired a float and a crew of artists, each carrying a blank gold-painted frame. As the float made its way to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, the artist took to the road and invited the audience to get photographed within the frame to get into the field of art. The piece was a hit. The people whose pictures were made were – you can see it in the pictures – excessive. (And it’s still a hit: it inspired a video produced by the 2020 Biden-Harris campaign.)
O’Grady was on the float, too, smiling, watching this very public work of conceptual art. My favorites of her performance, however, date back to a year ago, and were more personal. The title, “Rivers, First Draft, or the Woman in Red,” is a kind of semi-autobiographical “Pilgrim’s Progress”. Staged on a summer day, in a remote corner of Central Park, the piece symbolically re-enacts scenes from the artist’s life. An actor dressed in white gives his mother an impeccable role; Another plays O’Grady as a fictional, bookish kid. And the artist, dressed in a josh-red color, plays a version of his changing adult self. Trauma is enacted – romantic loss, political skirmishes, even a rape – but the narrative, like a medieval mystery drama and imprisoned in 48 color photographs, ends with a ritual lowered through healing waters And feel like a state of peace.
Family is a recurring theme of this artist. And “Wrong Family Album” (1980/1994), Her most familiar work may have been composed of images made of two of them: Queen Nefertiti and her children depicted in statues of the 18th Dynasty, and O’Grady’s elder sister, Devonia, who died in 1962. Leaving the children behind, as seen in the family. Photos.
Displayed in the ancient Egyptian art galleries on the third floor of the museum, the piece is a meditation on fundamental human relationships – period, timely motherhood, aging. But it is also about a fair history of racism: Western historians have also seen ancient Egyptian culture to be African as “classical / white”, and to be “African / Black” European. O’Grady and his fraternity Jamaica-Boston family are assigned as a common organ, left floating between identities – African, American, African-American, Caribbean – any / or any one in the world Without anchoring in
The fact that they participate in all of these identities, and that they are a source of their beauty and strength, seems to be the message from the show’s single video, “Landscape (Western / Hemisphere)”, which was produced in 2010/2011 Was. Set on the art of America’s galleries on the fifth floor and set between Frederick Church and a gorgeous, land-grabbing New World Vista painting by Thomas Cole, the video shows for the first time a continuous image of a dense, foggy illustration. In fact, it is a close shot of O’Grady’s “mixed-race hair” to borrow Aruna D’Souza’s description in the catalog. Dark and light with its colors and shades and its texture curved and straight, it is an embossed example of “both /”.
In addition to being a co-curator of Retrospective, D’Souza is the editor of “Lorraine O’Grady: Writing in Space, 1973–2019”, a book of artist writing published by Duke University last year. It is a cover-to-cover read, no surprise at the artist’s roots in literature. And its material dates and people working in Brooklyn are very coincidentally, with the exception of the most recent piece of the show.
Titled “Announcement of a new person (to come!),” And dated 2020, it is a photo series in which the artist portrays himself completely under the guise of knights – in fact, invisibly – in medieval times. The style is enclosed in a suit of armor. third floor. Does the armor indicate readiness for a fight or self-protective withdrawal? You look at it and think that “the winner” (bad), unless you suggest a small palm tree (good) growing from the helmet, his Caribbean / Jamaican heritage. Exact meanings, like the promised performances, have not yet been revealed. But clearly, something “both / and” is above, conceived with moral acumen, intelligence and human valor that has always marked the standard of taking this artist into the field.
Lorraine O’Grady: Both / and
Through July 18 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, brooklynmuseo.org; 718-638-5000.