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
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.