Two great New Years art books focus on little-known artists, Lorraine O’Grady and Gladys Nilsson
Artblog enthusiast Andrea Kirsh reviews two excellent books to read and watch: “Writing in Space 1973-2019” by Lorraine O’Grady and “Gladys Nilsson Honk!; Fifty Years of Painting” published by Matthew Marks Gallery and Garth Greenan Gallery This is a great place to start your New Year’s Resolution 2021 to learn more Happy New Year!
Lorraine O’Grady “Writing in Space 1973- 2019” (Duke University Press, Durham: 2020) ISBN 978-1-4780-1113-2
Lorraine O’Grady is best known for two performances produced almost forty years ago. “Mlle Bourgeoise Noir goes to the new museum” (1981) was an unsolicited presentation, viewed by a small number of people. Her only published recording was the artist’s own description of an earlier version of the performance (at Just Above Midtown Gallery, NYC) in the “Artists’ Chronicle” section of “High Performance” magazine and another self-written description. on the artist page of the feminist publication “Heresies”. O’Grady has exhibited his costume as well as a series of photographs from the event since 2007. “Art Is” (1983) involved the artist’s participation in the Afro-American Day Parade in Harlem; he was seen by the parade crowds but had no presence in the art world until 2007, when documentary photographs were shown. This volume is more than a collection of the writings of an important artist whose work and thoughts very belatedly attracted greater attention. This is an extremely eloquent analysis of the New York art world since 1973 by one of the most articulate and profound conceptual artists to address issues of race, class, diasporic identity, of non-Western philosophy and aesthetics and female subjectivity.
O’Grady was born and raised in Boston to Jamaican parents and came to art late after a successful career as a government intelligence analyst and translator; she was amazed at the degree of racial segregation she found in artistic institutions. These essays follow the evolution of his experiences and situational analyzes and document the ways in which these ideas manifested themselves in his work. The fluidity of O’Grady’s prose is less surprising in light of the MFA in writing that she received from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop before turning to art. She also worked as a professional critic, first of rock music and then of art, contributing to “Artforum” from 1992-94, and taught at the School of Visual Arts 1974-2000 and UC Irvine 2000-05 .
The volume, edited and with an introduction by Aruna D’Souza, includes artist statements, performance transcriptions, interviews, lectures, contributions to academic and artistic publications (including the highly influential “Olympia’s Maid; Reclaiming Black Subjectivity, “presented in paper form at the 1992 College Art Association annual meeting and published several times later), records of his curatorial projects and correspondence. She thinks very clearly of the possibilities of socially critical art:
“All I really hope my work can accomplish politically is a small contribution to the task of creating a climate of questioning and rejection. “
While a retrospective of her work, “Lorraine O’Grady: Both / And” is set to open at the Brooklyn Museum in March along with a catalog, the current publication is likely to be a much more comprehensive and behind-the-scenes recording of her. changing attitude towards artistic institutions and her evolution as an artist and thinker. It should be of particular interest to artists.
“Gladys Nilsson Honk! ; Fifty Years of Painting ”(Matthew Marks Gallery and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York: 2020) ISBN 978-1-94429-27-5
If you’ve never heard of Gladys Nilsson, you’re in good company. Part of her neglect is certainly due to the fact that she lives and works in this pristine area on Saul Steinberg’s famous map of the United States as seen from New York – where nothing exists between the Hudson River and the West Coast. She is also a woman of previous generations whose work has been almost entirely ignored by male authorities; this group includes Ruth Asawa, Senga Nengudi, Carolee Schneeman, Hannah Wilke and too many others. Besides everything you can say about her, Gladys Nilsson is a wonderful painter who is technically virtuoso in both watercolor and acrylic. Then there’s the fact that a lot of her work is funny and that she doesn’t take herself too seriously; she stretched and framed several of her small paintings in embroidery hoops. It is the first substantial monograph on the artist, yet it is published by its dealers; and besides an interview with the artist, the only critical writing it contains was written by Marcia Tucker in 1973. This situation must change. But this beautifully produced monograph full of images full of luscious pages should be a good start and provide a lot of visual appeal.
Nilsson paints exuberant and detailed views of a world of his own creation. She took full advantage of the Art Institute’s wide international range of art for study and inspiration, as well as the work of self-taught artists who have been notably brought together by the Chicago artist community. His work ignores the consistency of scale in densely populated landscapes, and the line between the human and natural world is generally porous. His beings look at each other and often touch each other; sensuality is polymorphic. Nilsson was part of the Hairy Who, a group of Chicago artists including Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca and Karl Wirsum, who exhibited together in the 1960s. His work has some connection with an earlier group of Chicago artists who forged a local response to surrealism: June Leaf, Theodore Halkin and Evelyn Statsinger, but also with contemporaries who were inspired by popular culture like Peter Saul. Nilsson’s work seems particularly relevant in light of painters such as Sue Williams and Christina Quarles, who could be his descendants. This book offers a very welcome opportunity to expand its audience.