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Lucy R. Lippard Photo

Lucy R. Lippard

American Writer, Curator, and Activist

Born: April 14, 1937 - New York City, New York
"Conceptual art, for me, means work in which the idea is paramount and the material form is secondary, lightweight, ephemeral, cheap, unpretentious, and/or 'dematerialized.'"
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"I always say art can't change the world, but it can be a very strong ally for unconventional ways of looking at the world. Effectiveness is usually consciousness raising. It's not like, 'Now we're going to go out and have affordable housing right now.' It raises people's consciousness about the issues, and about what capitalism is doing to all of us."
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"Writing about conceptual, feminist and political art, I've concluded that the ultimate escape attempt would be to free ourselves from the limitations of preconceived notions of art, and in doing so, help to save the planet."
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"I'm not an academic, and I always say my methodology is 'one thing leads to another' - that's really the way I write, and the way I do everything. People are always saying, 'So what's the thesis of this book?' and I go, 'Thesis? It hasn't got one.' It's just one thing leading to another. I love weaving things together, and finding strange juxtapositions - a sort of collage aesthetic."
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Summary of Lucy R. Lippard

Lucy Lippard played a key role in the development of Conceptual Art in New York in the 1960s and 1970s and has also been active in the Feminist Art movement. Over the course of her wide-ranging career, she has published over twenty books, curated some fifty exhibitions, written numerous essays and articles, and co-founded Heresies: A Journal of Art and Politics, as well as the art bookstore Printed Matter. She is also a political and cultural activist, helping to form groups including the Ad Hoc Women's Art Committee and the Art Workers Coalition and participating in many others. In more recent years she has focused her work on the landscape, culture, and art of the American Southwest, where she moved in the 1990s. Her writing and activism have earned her numerous honors and awards.

Accomplishments

  • Lippard's 1968 essay "The Dematerialization of Art" and her 1973 book Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 were among the first works to describe and define the practice of Conceptual Art of the time. In them she explored the art of the period as evolving toward ideas and actions rather than aesthetic objects, and becoming more openly engaged in contemporary issues; the book itself can be considered a conceptual work. Her highly influential curatorial and critical approach inspired a 2012 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum that revisited her publications.
  • Lippard's engagement with feminism emerged from her growing appreciation of the intersection of art with politics and social practice. Her active approach in protesting the underrepresentation of women artists as well as her critical voice in numerous essays and books exploring feminist issues and championing individual female artists earned her a significant place among critics and art historians in the feminist movement.
  • Lippard's writing has remained focused on art and artistic concepts that exist beyond ownership, commodification, and the reach of traditional art institutions. Her definition of art is wide-ranging, and her progression from conceptualism to feminism and finally to Land Art and the American landscape demonstrates the ways in which her personal politics have informed her approach to writing.

Biography of Lucy R. Lippard

Lucy R. Lippard Photo

Lucy Lippard was born on April 14, 1937 in New York City. An only child, Lippard spent much of her adolescence moving from city to city after her father, a doctor, returned from serving in World War II in 1946. The family moved to New Orleans and Charlottesville, Virginia, and finally settled in New Haven, Connecticut when Lippard was about sixteen years old. As well as these frequent moves, however, her family's summer visits to Maine remained a constant in Lippard's life from childhood throughout adulthood. These summers in Maine, in a house owned by her maternal grandparents, fostered Lippard's appreciation for nature and the outdoors.

Lucy R. Lippard and Important Artists and Artworks

Accumulation by Space (No.62.CO.) (1962)

Artist: Yayoi Kusama

Most of Kusama's work throughout her career directly resulted from her obsessive compulsive disorder, first diagnosed in 1961. During the 1960s, Kusama worked on a series of "accumulations" which featured canvases and objects filled with repeated visual motifs. Accumulation by Space (No. 62. CO.), a work made of numerous layers of stickers, is an early example of how Kusama approached layering techniques, repeated patterns, and filling space in her work - now hallmarks of her style.

A fixture of New York's art scene, Kusama was mentioned in Lippard's landmark essay "Eccentric Abstraction," published in Art International in 1966, which identified artists who rejected strict minimalism. Lippard cited works like Kusama's Accumulation No. 1 (1962) - a chair covered with phallic forms - as one of several precedents for the sensuous objects made by Eva Hesse and the other artists she explored in the essay and exhibition of the same title.

In retrospect, Lippard's distinction of Kusama's work as contributing to the development of eccentric abstraction recognizes Kusama's artistic innovations at a time when she was often discredited by a male-dominated art world and difficult to classify as an artist. Moreover, Lippard was one of the first critics to note the Surrealist spirit in Kusama's work, with its uncanny combination of inanimate and human-like forms and its manifestation of unconscious compulsions. Lippard later included Kusama in the traveling exhibition Soft and Apparently Soft Sculpture with Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, and Bruce Nauman.

Sans II (1968)

Artist: Eva Hesse

In this work, which is one of five sections of the complete Sans II, Hesse explores the power of repetition as well as the limits of an abstract grid using the rough-edged, translucent, skin-like qualities of her synthetic medium. As she commented in an interview, she sought to create "non-anthropomorphic and non-geometric" forms, and works that were neither freestanding sculpture nor flat, wall-mounted paintings.

Lippard in her 1976 book on the artist makes clear that "an integral part of Hesse's work is that certain pleasure in proving oneself against perfection or subverting the order that runs the outside world...in despoiling neat edges and angles with 'home-made' or natural procedures that relate back to one's own body, one's own personal experience. Thus outwardly rational work can be saturated with a poetic and condensatory intensity that eventually amounts to the utmost in irrationality. Repetition and repetition of moveable units in particular, leads to fragmentation, the disintegration of one order in favor of a new one."

Lippard, a close friend of Hesse, included the artist in much of her writings and wrote a monograph on her. Although Hesse's works have been interpreted as visual manifestations of her struggles with anxiety, memories of her Jewish family fleeing the Nazis, a failed marriage, and her own suffering from a brain tumor, Lippard strived to avoid these topics while writing about her after her untimely death. Lippard's intentions were to preserve Hesse's artistic legacy as accurately as possible without sensationalizing Hesse's life, work, or death, and her book solidified the artist's place within the art historical canon.

Fragile Goddess (2002)

Artist: Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois is heralded for her ability to depict the complexities of domesticity, family, sexuality, and the female body in her art. Fragile Goddess is a small, sculptural pin cushion reminiscent of the Venus of Willendorf. With no head, arms, or legs, this soft and voluptuous figure, tender and vulnerable, is made to be penetrated by needles.

The protruding stomach and large breasts represent the life-giving and protective forces of the female body, as Bourgeois herself stated that her sculptures "grow from the center," and that their exterior elements safeguard the "life" found inside each of her works.

Bourgeois was featured in Lippard's essay "Eccentric Abstraction," the exhibition Eccentric Abstraction, and her book, From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women's Art. Although Bourgeois was older than the artists she usually wrote about and worked with, Lippard was struck by the freshness of the artist's work, elaborating that "[Bourgeois'] work is less aggressively detached and more poetically mature than that of the younger artists, but like them, she does not ignore the uneasy, near repellent side of art." Lippard saw Bourgeois' sculptures as a "peculiar fusion of pleasure and pain," that had an "uneasy aura of reality... They provoke that part of the brain which, activated by the eye, experiences the strongest physical sensations."

Influences and Connections

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Content compiled and written by Rachel Klipa

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Sarah Lees

"Lucy R. Lippard Critic Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Klipa
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Sarah Lees
Available from:
First published on 10 May 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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