This week I wanted to share with you an important international art world figure and personal hero of mine, Lucy Lippard. In her overlapping lives as critic, curator, writer, artist, and activist, Lucy expertly straddles the art world and the “real world” giving her readers an informed view of the people and ideas motivating change in both. Her attention to context, influence and keen use of art as a tool for action are a guiding light for the work we do here at Fabulously Feminist and FabArt.

Lucy Lippard is an American writer heavily involved in social justice and activism in the art world.  Born in 1937 in New York City, Lucy spent countless hours in museums as a child looking at paintings and drinking in the cultures they came from. She received her bachelor’s degree in art from Smith College in 1958, a program that included studying in Paris for a year. While abroad, Lucy surrounded herself with artists of all types. This was the beginning of her exploring the art world, not only through its history, but through the people who created it. Though she did make some prints she was proud of in school, Lippard preferred the world of words thinking she would write novels after receiving her degree. She was awarded honors for her writing in fiction as a student but kept in close contact with her classmates, still interested in the ideas they would exchange. After graduating, Lucy spent time volunteering in Pueblo, Mexico  before returning to New York in 1960 where she landed her first and only formal job in the Library of the Museum of Modern Art.

 During her time at the MoMA, Lucy built on her foundation of art and art history that began at Smith. Lippard assisted researching, ghost writing, and copy editing for various museum publications. As a library page Lucy had unique access to a host of other creative people working in and with the museum. Many other young artists were employed by the Modern at that time including Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Robert Ryman [her former husband],  Howardena Pindell, and John Button; some of which Lippard formed close friendships and later collaborated with. After only a year and a half Lucy quit her job there to write freelance full-time.

Through maintaining her relationships with artists, frequenting the MoMA library, and being active in her community, Lucy positioned herself at the forefront of discussions in the contemporary art world but never abandoned the real life motivations for the work. She used her writing to expose the underlying labor and thought of these artists, especially those being overlooked by traditional gallery and museum tastes. This in turn opened her up to opportunities to curate shows around social issues and collaborate with colleagues on artist’s books and other projects. [Lucy Lippard and Sol LeWitt founded a bookstore dedicated to artists books in 1976] When what would become one of her best known books was published,  Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, her individual approach captured the complex nature of  the shift toward conceptual art while preserving the diverse backgrounds of the artists involved.

It quickly became apparent to Lippard that the art world represented in galleries and museums was not necessarily reflective of the vibrant art community she was a part of; Nor was it particularly concerned with supporting the next generation of contemporary artists who staffed these institutions, two things she would later protest heavily. In the late 60’s and early 70’s Lucy involved with the Art Workers Coalition; a group formed in 1969 to pressure New York museums, especially the MoMA into making reforms. A major focus for the AWC was addressing the museum’s relationship with artists and the larger community including art workers and the public. Lucy was involved in these conversations as well as calling for fair wages for art workers and campaigned for representation of artists on governing museum boards. She was also a huge champion of the women’s liberation movement, publishing another seminal piece, From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art which analyzed women’s work and called better representation of women in the arts. In both cases Lippard was interested in the intersection between art and labor and what representation says about whose labor is valuable. 

What interests me most about Lucy Lippard is the attention she pays to context and how that factors into her approach to the art world. Her writing is really at it’s best when she’s using her relationships with contemporary artists to get into the heart of the social and political issues their work deals with. She’s constantly looking for “that gap between art and life where I like to hang out…” and framing her writings in ways that makes the reader reevaluate what art is or can be. That is the same kind of candid access we want to provide with FabArt. I want this column to eventually become a place for women and artists exploring social issues where new ideas are presented with background on individual artists and the art history that informs their work. We want to encourage people viewing art to think of it as more than a visual object and delve into the ideas behind it. In the future I’d like to also establish a collection of inclusive writings on art history expanded to include work by artists and historians outside of the typical white male perspective presented overwhelmingly in books and museums. Thanks to people like Lucy, strides have been made in these efforts, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

Nowadays Lippard lives in New Mexico and it still writing, collaborating with artists and participating in activism. Her most recent book, Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West, is modeled after artists books and features a collection of photos and writing discussing art in relation to a sense of place. The scope of the book is incredibly broad, touching on strip mining, gravel pits, land development, native american religious sights and landscape photography. Lippard maintains her personal tone, social-awareness, and bite; She isn’t shy about referring to certain land use as, “totally crass capitalist greed.” So far as I’ve seen it’s gotten rave reviews and I’ll be sure to report back as soon as I get my hands on it. 

As always thanks for reading.
Till next time,
-Akiko Surai

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