Perambulating the Bounds

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Lucy Lippard’s Vanderbilt lecture

In preparation for Lucy Lippard’s talk last Wednesday at Vanderbilt I’ve been reading her work much more carefully than I ever have – in general I don’t fill my reading time with art criticism. It’s been very stimulating. She’s a fantastic writer and thinker, and during her career she has grappled with how to be a critic, and with the result of very imaginatively structured texts that weave together her judgments, her explanatory description of works, biography, the artist’s own words, and the words of others. This makes her books a little harder to navigate, as you move between a main text and substantial captions that are not to be skipped over, but it creates something that has some chance of standing on its own longer.

The lecture at Vanderbilt, titled “Common Ground: Art and Communities,” was disappointing, as talks often are. To be effective takes very different skills than writing, but I expected more because of the care Lippard has taken with her texts over the years. The lecture was about the community basis for activist art, differentiating it from public art (almost anything in a public space) and community art (the community has a say in the work). Activist art is issue-oriented. It can be public and community-based as well. These distinctions were useful, and she had slides of artists who were new to me, like Suzanne Lacy.

There were things I wished she had addressed more, such as the aesthetics of this art, what differentiates it from community organizing, and some of the implications of art coming from a local source rather than rooted in the major metropolitan cultural centers. I believe she is making a case for this art having value over non-activist art, but I am not sure. Some statements, most of which I think came up in the question period, seemed off mark. She asserted that no one realized that Picasso’s Guernica was about a Fascist bombing. The Modern may not have stressed that information (I remember it just appearing dramatically in front of you as you got out of the elevators), but I think many people who don’t know much about art knew that. A friend of mine in the audience who is not from the art world had the same reaction. In another case someone asked why this stuff wasn’t getting into museums and Lippard encouraged the idea that museums resist it, but she failed to go after a larger point about the institutional context. Often activist art will live best outside the museum. In some cases the forms of the art tie it to a place outside the museum or it takes a form that just cannot be bottled. And a lot of this art is making its way into shows. Of the artists she showed, at this point the Guerilla Girls and the Rural Studio are in the canon, you see Charles Simmonds’ little buildings in many museums, and Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party will be installed in the Brooklyn Museum.

I also was surprised by some technical lapses. I expect Vanderbilt to do a better job providing technical support for a speaker. There was no remote control for the projector, so Donald Woodman ran it by hand. There was no microphone set up for questions in the scheduled question and answer period, so Lippard had to spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out what was asked.


  • I was disappointed that she read her entire presentation straight from paper, and her pace was way too fast for taking notes. This stressed me out.

    I had heard beforehand that Lucy is most comfortable with the question/answer segments of her talks, but her responses always seemed to only rephrase the questions in statement-form rather than question-form. Several people that I spoke to afterwards felt that she didn't effectively respond to any of the questions she was asked.

    And then the Chancellor cut her off, asking her to cut the Q&A short. What gives???

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:11 AM  

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