Ideas and Analysis by Lucy R. Lippard of Important Artists and Artworks
Accumulation by Space (No.62.CO.) (1962)
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.
Stickers on primed canvas - Private collection
Sans II (1968)
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.
Fiberglass and polyester resin - San Francisco MoMA
Fragile Goddess (2002)
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."
Fabric - Private collection
Big Aluminum 1 (1966)
Alice Adams is best known for her public art commissions and land-art installations, but in the 1950s and 1960s, she was a prolific fiber artist and sculptor in New York City. Big Aluminum 1 was exhibited in Eccentric Abstraction, alongside work by Bourgeois, Hesse, and others. The work itself was later described as "an irregular large tube of chain-link fencing, [with a] partially enclosed, tapering smaller shape woven from aluminum wire. Measuring over twelve feet in length, and at its widest, three feet, the structure was suspended at two points from the ceiling..."
Before the watershed moment of Eccentric Abstraction, both exhibition and essay, Adams' work had defied classification as she transitioned from working in tapestry to making what she referred to as "structures," freestanding objects constructed from materials she could find around Canal Street. Like the other works in the exhibition, Big Aluminum 1 "reflected on the prevailing geometric conformity of contemporary abstract minimalist sculpture in ways that were, by turn, funny, phallic, abstract, erotic, and surprising in material, form, and range," as Jo Applin noted.
Lippard described Adams' work as "forms that are patently man-made, but have a strangeness operating close to a natural level. The gawky, semi-architectural armatures of chicken wire, industrial cable, and link fencing retain traces of biomorphism." Lippard continued to write about Adams well into the 1970s and traced her metamorphosis from tapestry maker to sculptor to her third "life" as a public artist.
Aluminum cable - Aluminum chain link fence
Big Daddy (Beach Scene) (1970)
Artist and activist May Stevens was a dear friend of Lucy Lippard. Both women worked together and supported each other throughout their personal and professional lives. Stevens was Lippard's neighbor in SoHo, and was deeply committed to the Civil Rights Movement, active in Angry Arts Week, and co-founder of Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam.
Stevens was particularly frustrated with the Vietnam War and expressed her anger and disgust in a series of paintings called Big Daddy. The eponymous figure in the series was based on her own racist, conservative, and patriotic father. In Big Daddy (Beach Scene), a mirrored pair of bald, fleshy, nude figures sit with panting bulldogs in their laps. The figures squint with a self-satisfied expression, while the simple and bold reds, blues, and white tones of skin and fur reference the American flag. A description of the series in The New Yorker stated that "Stevens created this ignorant male caricature to serve as a visual metaphor for all that she felt was hypocritical and unjust in American patriarchal dynamics."
Writing about Stevens in 1975, Lippard commented that Big Daddy "is a graphic representation of the authority figure which has a special meaning for a woman in a male-dominated society. Stevens brings to the Big Daddy paintings a controlled but powerful rage against imperialism on the foreign and domestic fronts."
Lippard and Stevens would become political allies and together, with others, co-founded Heresies: A Feminist Publication of Art and Politics. Lippard also included an essay on Stevens in her From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women's Art and included work from the Big Daddy series in the landmark exhibition A Different War: Vietnam in Art at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art in 1990. More recently, Lippard wrote about Stevens' life in Artforum after the artist's death in 2019.
Gouache, felt-tip pen, and pencil on paper - Museum of Modern Art, New York
Farm Ghosts: The Wife's Tale (1991)
Chicago-born Harmony Hammond is a pioneering feminist and lesbian artist who got her start in the 1970s in New York City, where she was a founding member, along with Lippard and Stevens, of Heresies: A Feminist Publication of Art and Politics. In 1989, Hammond moved to Galisteo, New Mexico after learning about the town while teaching at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Hammond is known for a wide variety of work, most notably her abstract paintings. Farm Ghosts: The Wife's Tale, is from the Farm Ghosts series. It consists of found elements including stamped tin, metal buckets, and a water basin, as well as a central panel with oil paint over broken pieces of linoleum mounted on canvas. New Mexico artist and educator Shane Tolbert described the work as "epic yet intimate" in its evocation of home, labor, violence, and melancholy.
Lippard focused on the windmill in this work, writing, "Hammond has taken the figure-like windmill, made it fragile and vulnerable, standing alone in the void, a proxy for the farmer's life and wife. She has seen it as a sun, and as a flower or a guardian of the landscape, as well as a symbolic 'suicide tower,' referring to the rash of farmers who took their own lives when they lost their farms in the '80s."
Farm Ghosts is an ode to disappearing agrarian life in America, a topic Hammond has addressed in much of her work over the past thirty years, along with class structures, marginalized communities, and queer identity, particularly in rural America. In the 1990s, Lippard, too, left New York City and moved to Galisteo after spending time out West, teaching in Colorado and visiting Hammond in New Mexico. The women have corresponded regularly since the 1970s and expressed their thoughts on life and art, supporting each other throughout their working lives. Both have also been deeply affected by their experiences in New Mexico in their painting and writing, respectively.
Mixed media - Alexander Gray Associates