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Introduction: From Conceptualism to Feminism

Visitors leafing through books displayed at the exhibition space, among which Hanne Darboven’s 68 (1968), consisting of six books of 366 pages each, and Donald Burgy’s two books Documentation of Selected Mental and Physical Characteristics of Donald Burgy from 1/20/69 to 1/30/69 (1969) were presented on several tables alongside other artists' books.

It is fair to say that Lucy R. Lippard’s exhibitions as a curator during the 1960s and 70s have contributed significantly to subsequent interdisciplinary, site-specific, participatory, interventional, performance and community- based art practised by artists and curators. The same applies to her role in bringing political and artistic agendas together. One recent example of Lippard’s influence on curators is ‘WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’, an exhibition organised for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2007 by Cornelia Butler, author of the central essay in this publication. 01 Even large-scale survey shows such as ‘WACK!’ can be traced back to those political agendas raised by Lippard. In her essay for that exhibition’s catalogue, Butler refers programmatically to Lippard as a role model, insofar as ‘WACK!’ invoked feminism as its core, rather than considering it a conjunctural phenomenon, as the art world generally sees it (when it actually sees it). 02 At the same time, ‘WACK!’ may be read as representative of a recent, post-Conceptual approach to exhibition practice that has Lippard as one of its main influences. According to a conversation between Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Alexandra Schwartz commissioned for this volume, 03 such practices now lack the political edge that their criticisms of the predominant division of labour once gave them. At the same time, we see in that conversation, as well as those with artists Agnes Denes and Alice Aycock in this volume, 04 to what extent Lippard’s generation was affected by the social climate of the late 1960s and by the male-dominated sphere that characterised it: social change, in the form of an active response to mainstream avant-garde art constituted primarily by and for men, was necessary. Before Lippard decided to show exclusively female artists in the last of her ‘numbers shows’ – her 1973 exhibition at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, titled ‘c.7500’ – the path she followed on institutional and political terms, and also personal and emotional grounds, had been fraught. The types of conflict and the contradictions reflected in the texts collected here function now, as they originally did, as symptoms of prevailing gender politics. They are representative of the attempt by Lippard and others to work through their existing differences towards solidarity and collective representation. Today, anyone still confronted by gender stereotypes – often merely refined versions of traditional codes – can make recourse to this important legacy.

A comparable claim can be made regarding the enduring significance of the other three numbers shows, realised in 1969 and 1970. Their titles, like ‘c.7500’, referred to the population figures of each hosting city (‘557,087’ in Seattle in 1969, ‘955,000’ in Vancouver in 1970 and ‘2,972,453’ in Buenos Aires, also in 1970). 05 As Butler’s essay points out, they were an attempt to apply (Conceptual) art themes and strategies – such as the provision of information, indexing, the articulation of series and the exploration of diverse distribution methods – to curatorial practice. In doing so, they promised to undermine the traditional division of roles and functions between artists, curators and critics. Just as Sol LeWitt – one of Lippard’s early friends and conversation partners – referred to the prototypical Conceptual artist prosaically as an ‘office worker’, 06 Lippard was to define her role as that of a ‘compiler’. 07 The catalogues, each consisting of a set of loose index cards (and therefore characterised by a non-hierarchical form and a contingent order), could therefore be regarded as artworks. Just as Conceptual artists made use of language as a material and a medium, critics and curators during those years sought to employ instruments oriented towards facilitating communication. This developed into a new cipher crossing (virtually) all genres and media, promoting increasingly project-based, interdisciplinary and situationally mobile exhibition formats, and leading, in avant-garde style, to the collapse of distinctions between the processes of production and reception, or exhibition and publication.

The emphasis on communication and participation that characterised curatorial initiatives at the time, and concretely Lippard’s numbers shows, allows us to consider these exhibitions as heralding the many projects today that are based on contextual references and that take place outside major art centres. A practice that developed partly in order to confront a New York- based art market through a decentralised exhibition format – a format that addressed the public both inside and outside of institutions – seems to have contributed to the (self-)understanding of non-object-centred art as social practice. This conception has been decisive since the 1990s, when it began to involve the participation of a wide, albeit segmented, spectrum of the public, institutions and the media. What we can identify today as a trend towards nomadic, temporary cultural events that promote city marketing and tourism rather than sustainable structural development, saw the cross-institutional collaboration conceived by Lippard, among others, as a prototype; in the true spirit of an age when artists were founding galleries and magazines, this brought an expanded, quasi-institutional quality to art. It is in fact possible to regard Lippard’s activities during those years as an attempt at quasi- institutional self-organisation – ‘institutional’ in the sense of new, network- based forms rather than traditional hierarchical organisations. Examples beyond Lippard’s efforts include the foundation of the New York artists’ books distributor and publisher Printed Matter in 1976, and of the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC) in 1969. 08 But such practices have been distorted today by a network economy oriented towards utilisation; in the face of a gradual withdrawal of public funds, the increasing goal of collaboration between individuals, groups and institutions has become to maintain their very existence, and often to generate publicity.

Turning away from traditional notions of art towards a practice oriented towards exchange and distribution affected the self-understanding of everyone participating in art activities. The participation of the audience – and non- professionals – in the artistic process started to become a priority, not only for artists critical of institutions but also for curators and critics who sought to counteract the power of the art market with a democratically constituted community of informed actors. (This does not mean, however, that such efforts were essentially non-political; for example, the Paula Cooper Gallery and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, which was founded in 1977, either participated in anti-Vietnam War protests or integrated sociocultural agendas like class, gender or race into their programmes.) Some of the advances associated with Lippard’s curatorial concepts beyond questioning the division of labour between producers, mediators and recipients of art (predominantly done in institutions) were regarded as daring. 09 The intention of such gestures was to show that institutional hierarchies were based not only on traditional male-dominated structures, but also on contingent, changeable conceptions. In this sense, the ‘artists’ criticism’ characteristic of the 1960s and 70s, according to Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello, was not only asserted by but also applicable to its propagators. 10 As an example, it is worth invoking Lippard’s recollection of the catalogue for ‘Information’, which took place at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1970, curated by Kynaston McShine, with Lippard’s influential participation in the conception. 11 She has written: ‘The handsome catalogue looked like a Conceptual artist’s book, with its informal “typewritten” text and a wild range of non-art imagery from anthology to computer science, and an eclectic, interdisciplinary reading list.’ 12

Those concerned with the historiography of art and exhibition activity since the 1960s and its epistemological turns will be familiar with several key terms that are closely associated with Lippard’s name, including ‘Eccentric p.21 Abstraction’, the title of her first exhibition as an independent curator in 1966, 13 and ‘dematerialisation’, a term that began its meteoric rise in 1968with an article Lippard co-authored with John Chandler and published in Art International, titled ‘The Dematerialization of Art’. 14 A descriptive category that aimed to capture symptomatic tendencies taking place withinan Anglo-American art world shaped by happenings, Fluxus, Pop, Minimal and Conceptual art, ‘dematerialised art’ would eventually become a normative category during the changeable reception of Conceptual art. The fact that the concept of dematerialisation was used by Argentinean writer Oscar Masotta a year earlier to link art and psychoanalysis 15 suggests that exchanges took place between the artistic and theoretical avant-gardes of the age, creating what David Lamelas, who was active within the wider Conceptual art scene of Buenos Aires, called a ‘climate of knowledge’. 16 In this climate, the traditional ‘material-object paradigm’ identified by Art & Language 17 and the ‘production values’ essential to traditional conceptions of artwork and authorship were questioned and sometimes replaced by what is now generally referred to as ‘artistic research’. 18 The traditional ontology of fine art was perceived as jaded, as overdetermined by formalist criticism and as requiring a new epistemological foundation. 19 Lippard was among those critics and curators who faced up to the challenge. Her 1973 book, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, was an attempt to develop a conceptual logic able to question form- and medium- based material parameters, and to allow for an active, independent mode of reading on the viewer’s part, which – as with the ‘Information’ catalogue – was manifest in the book’s structure.

Without wishing to engage here in detail with the concept and discourse of dematerialisation, it is important to highlight, in retrospect, the way in which it reflected the re-evaluation of artistic production in the context of the knowledge and information society emerging at that time, as well as its relation to what is today referred to as ‘immaterial labour’ (that is, activities such as project production and management, artistic research, social communication, affective investments and publicity). 20 A historical-critical revision of the forms of work and action that Lippard once classified under the heading ‘dematerialisation’ can provide an historical perspective of the ‘collaborative turn’ and ‘shared production’ that are essential to discussions in today’s art context.

The dematerialisation of art stood and indeed still stands for a de- subjectivation or neutralisation of the aesthetic, but this very transformation,

significantly, also triggered questions about the sociocultural status of both the producers and recipients of art. Her awareness of the art market as a stabilising power and as a system of representation – sharpened in the contexts of both Conceptual art and the women’s movement – would lead Lippard to distinguish her decidedly feminist exhibition projects after 1972 not only from modernist but also from Conceptual art (visual) languages, and to investigate a framework for ‘feminine’ aesthetics. Pointing to the relation between gender and economy, she made an essential contribution to the critical evaluation and expansion of the canon of post- and neo-avant- gardes that is still taking place today. With this history in mind, her use of Conceptual art as the blueprint for a non-profit-oriented practice, which she herself has questioned in retrospect, 21 is understandable – although tensions concerning criticisms of authorship, copyright and publicity-logic manifest in Conceptual art were already building at the time. 22

It was largely reflection on her own position that stimulated Lippard to consider what appears today as either negative dialectics and/or the constitutive complicity of art and criticism. Like a number of her contemporaries, Lippard rejected the deployment of erudition and artistic judgment as a critic, which she regarded as elitist and complicit with the interests of the art market. In the essay ‘Escape Attempts’, for example, which she wrote in 1995 as a contribution to one of the first retrospective surveys of Conceptual art, ‘Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965–1975’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 23 she admitted that in reality the ‘contact with a broader audience’ claimed by the work forms she had once represented had remained ‘vague and undeveloped’. 24 Among other things, Lippard explained this by pointing at the tendency shown by Conceptual artists to choose the certainties of the art business over the anonymity of information and communications systems. 25

Lippard’s exhibitions and texts from the time help us recognise the anti- aesthetic revolts of the 1968 generation in reference to the dynamics of modern art, and to the intention to examine its ideological foundations and social values as part of a broader process of politicisation. Lippard was one of the few curators and art critics who dedicated themselves, in the context of the social revolutions of the time, to ongoing activism. In particular, her commitment to the women’s movement through her involvement in the Ad Hoc Women Artists Committee since its foundation in 1970 identifies Lippard as a ‘cultural producer’ who referred in her practice to aesthetics and politics while simultaneously considering hers to be ‘ordinary work’. 26

Considering the extent to which Lippard’s activities as curator, art critic, author, mediator and activist were shaped by solidarity among producers and a critical approach to institutions, how can academic rhetoric lay claim to such attitudes and positions so easily today, when it is still difficult for cultural producers to subscribe to a political or feminist agenda?

Lippard should not be perceived as viewing her own position as heroic: in her writings she refers to the laborious business of art criticism, 27 as well as to her self-doubt and impatience in face of ‘the slow and laborious development of my feminism and its application to aesthetics and politics’. 28 As if reproaching herself for any delay, she asks, ‘What was I doing all the time?’ 29 Her answer reflects an awareness of the social context that also characterises her art criticism: ‘Well, I was being mother, lover, homemaker, part-time political activist, writing fiction and earning a living.’ 30

As with other feminist-minded colleagues, such as Marcia Tucker, the founding director of New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art, Lippard’s biography is a history of breaks, of decisive moments when women were forced to negotiate their engagement with an institutional logic shaped by a patriarchal, heteronormative and white society. In Lippard’s case, there was also an early awareness of the effects of colonialism and postcolonialism on art and culture – long before international interest in the non-European and non-US American art market was triggered by globalisation. 31

One striking aspect of Lippard’s work is her decision to place the ‘private’ activities associated with reproduction and affective work (family and emotional life), as well as her political activism, before her ‘public’ professional practice as a writer and curator. In this way, she embraced an important aspect of the women’s movement: the ‘multitasking’ to which women seeking to organise familial and personal commitments alongside professional lives were condemned. On the other hand, she addressed the splitting of roles between the private and public spheres, thus underlining the precarious social arena of reproduction. This had a fundamental effect on the feminist project by lending value to a reproductive sphere that was traditionally encoded as female. It is a matter of social and affective abilities and work, which post-Fordist neo-liberalism has sought to benefit from. Lippard’s texts from the 1970s are the best possible evidence that the feminist project, in its close engagement with the so-called private sphere, was unaware of the pitfalls behind identity politics. Remarkably, Lippard and others embraced the potential difficulties, as when she referred to her newly acquired freedom ‘to respond to all art on a far more personal level. I’m more than willing to be confessional, vulnerable, autobiographical, even embarrassing, if that seems called for’. 32 These words are important in order to counteract the anti-psychological rhetoric that is often associated with the avant-gardes and anti-avant-gardes of the time. 33

The reappraisal of Lippard’s curatorial projects undertaken by this publication allows for a simultaneous re-evaluation of political and theoretical phenomena related to gender studies. It shows how ‘difference feminism’ was in fact more inconsistent and complex than conventional histories of the women’s movement may suggest. Lippard’s category of ‘feminine’ aesthetics, 34 for example, points towards a structural interweaving of sociological and emotional biographical aspects on the one side, and formal and ‘aesthetic’ aspects on the other – a combination that cannot easily be interpreted as the unbroken expression of an essentialist way of thinking. Lippard’s texts, written in the revolutionary climate of the 1960s and 70s, reject opportunistic forms of animosity towards art. Those who read her reviews and monographic works – including her now canonical albeit far from orthodox essays on Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Minimal and Conceptual art, and on artists such as Ad Reinhardt, Eva Hesse, Tony Smith and Judy Chicago – can easily recognise not only her wide-ranging and profound knowledge but also her commitment to art. It is surely no exaggeration in this context to refer to ‘lived’ art criticism – in other words, subjective and biased art criticism. Representative of artistic developments and of the canon of contemporary art criticism and curatorial practice, Lippard’s essays, reviews and exhibitions programmatically affirm contradictions and co-dependencies between critical distance and committed involvement. 35 In this manner, they reflect a complexity that comes together through a multivalent, vibrant, essential authorial voice.

Translated from German by Lucinda Rennison


  • The exhibition took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, from 4 March to 16 July 2007, and travelled to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC (21 September–16 December 2007), PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (17 February–12 May 2008) and the Vancouver Art Gallery (4 October 2008–11 January 2009). It included work by 120 artists, including Eleanor Antin, Lygia Clark, Judy Chicago, Elaine Sturtevant, Sanja Iveković, Kirsten Justesen, Marta Minujín, Martha Rosler, Sylvia Sleigh, Barbara T. Smith and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. See also Cornelia Butler and Lisa Gabrielle Mark (ed.), WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (exh. cat.), Los Angeles, Cambridge, MA and London: Museum of Contemporary Art and The MIT Press, 2007.
  • See C. Butler, ‘Art and Feminism: An Ideology of Shifting Criteria’, in C. Butler and L.G. Mark (ed.), WACK!, op. cit., pp.14–23.
  • See ‘Mierle Laderman Ukeles in conversation with Alexandra Schwartz’, in this volume, pp.280–88.
  • ‘Agnes Denes in conversation with Alexandra Schwartz’ and ‘Alice Aycock in conversation with Alexandra Schwartz’, in this volume, pp.268–71 and pp.272–79.
  • ‘557,087’, Seattle Art Museum Pavilion and across the city (5 September– 5 October 1969); ‘955,000’, Vancouver Art Gallery and other venues in the city (13 January–8 February 1970); ‘2,972,453’, Centro de Arte y Comunicación (CAYC), Buenos Aires (4–23 December 1970); and ‘c.7,500’, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), Valencia, California (14–18 May 1973), and then touring throughout the US and to London.
  • Sol LeWitt, ‘Serial Project 1, 1966’, Aspen, no.5 + 6, Fall/Winter 1967, unpaginated.
  • See C. Butler, ‘Women–Concept–Art: Lucy R. Lippard’s Numbers Shows’, in this volume, pp.16–69.
  • The Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC) was an open coalition of artists, film-makers, writers, critics and museum staff that formed in New York City in January 1969. Its principal aim was to pressure the city’s museums – notably the Museum of Modern Art – into implementing various reforms.
  • See, for example, Peter Plagens, ‘557,087: Seattle’, Artforum, vol.8, no.3, November 1969, pp.64–67; reprinted in this volume, pp.244–47.
  • See Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (1999, trans. Gregory Elliott), London and New York: Verso, 2005.
  • Kynaston McShine wrote in the catalogue’s acknowledgments: ‘I especially wish to acknowledge the “presence” in this book of the “critic” Lucy R. Lippard, who also made available to me her “information” on so many of the people represented here.’ See K. McShine (ed), Information (exh. cat.), New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1970, p.137. Lippard is also included in the list of artists for the show, on the catalogue’s title page.
  • Lucy R. Lippard, ‘Escape Attempts’, in Ann Goldstein and Anne Rorimer (ed.), Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965–1975 (exh. cat.), Los Angeles, Cambridge, MA and London: Museum of Contemporary Art and The MIT Press, 1995, p.34; reprinted as the introduction to the second edition of L.R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997, pp.vii–xxii. The first edition was published by Praeger, New York, in 1973.
  • ‘Eccentric Abstraction’, Fischbach Gallery, New York, 20 September– 8 October 1966.
  • L.R. Lippard and John Chandler, ‘The Dematerialization of Art’, Art International, vol.12, no.2, 1968, pp.31–36; reprinted in Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson (ed.), Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1999, pp.46–50. See also L.R. Lippard, Six Years, op. cit., pp.42–43.
  • See Oscar Masotta, ‘Despues del pop, nosotros desmaterializamos’ (1967), Conciencia y estructura, Buenos Aires: Editorial Jorge Álvarez, 1969; reprinted in excerpted form as ‘After Pop, We Dematerialize’ (trans. Eileen Brockbank), in Inés Katzenstein (ed.), Listen, Here, Now! Argentine Art of the 1960s: Writings of the Avant-Garde, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2004, pp.208–16. For background information, see Juli Carson, ‘Aesthetics of Repetition: A Case for Oscar Masotta’, X-TRA, vol.14, no.3, Spring 2012, available at http://www. (last accessed on 31 May 2012) and Ana Longoni and Mariano Mestman, ‘After Pop, We Dematerialize: Oscar Masotta, Happenings, and Media Art at the Beginnings of Conceptualism’ (trans. Linda Phillips), in I. Katzenstein (ed.), Listen, Here, Now!, op. cit., pp.156–72.
  • See Lynda Morris, ‘Interview with David Lamelas’ (London, December 1972), in David Lamelas: A New Refutation of Time (exh. cat.), Munich, Rotterdam and Düsseldorf : Kunstverein Munchen, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and Richter Verlag, 1997, pp.13–20; excerpts of the interview were published in Art Press, no.3, March–April 1973, pp.14–15.
  • See Thomas Dreher, Konzeptuelle Kunst in Amerika und England Zwischen 1963 und 1976, Lang: Frankfurt am Main, 1992, p.109.
  • ‘Artistic research’ as a practice was being established at the time in opposition to the art market’s fixation on objects of exchange. Today it has become part of the academic standard. See Mika Hannula, Juha Suoranta and Tere Vadén, Artistic Research: Theories, Methods and Practices, Helsinki and Gothenburg: Academy of Fine Arts and University of Gothenburg, 2005; Dieter Lesage and Kathrin Busch (ed.), ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Researcher’ (special issue), AS Mediatijdschrift /Visual Culture Quarterly, no.179, 2007; Tom Holert (ed.), ‘Artistic Research’ (special issue), Texte zur Kunst, no.82, June 2011.
  • See, for example, Charles Harrison, ‘Indexes and Other Figures’, Essays on Art & Language (1991), Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2001, pp.63–81, especially p.68.
  • Antonio Negri, Maurizio Lazzarato and Paolo Virno, Umherschweifende Produzenten, Berlin: ID-Verlag, 1998.
  • See L.R. Lippard, ‘Escape Attempts’, op. cit., p.31.
  • See A. Alberro, Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2002.
  • ‘Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965–1975’, 15 October 1995–4 February 1996, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
  • L.R. Lippard, ‘Escape Attempts’, op. cit., p.31.
  • See ibid.
  • In this Lippard recalls the portraits drawn in Jacques Rancière, ‘Von der Kunst und der Arbeit. Warum die Praktiken der Kunst eine Ausnahme von den anderen Praktiken bilden und warum nicht’, Die Aufteilung des Sinnlichen. Die Politik der Kunst und ihre Paradoxien, (ed. and trans. Maria Muhle), Berlin: b_books/ PoLYpeN, 2006, p.66.
  • See L.R. Lippard, ‘Changing Since Changing’, From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art, New York: E.P. Dutton: 1976, p.1.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.
  • See Pip Day, ‘Locating “2,972,453”: Lucy R. Lippard in Argentina’, in this volume, pp.78–97.
  • L.R. Lippard. ‘Changing Since Changing’, op. cit., p.2.
  • Yvonne Rainer’s autobiography, Feelings Are Facts (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2006), might help here, as it clarifies how and to what extent the tensions between the personal and the political spheres, which were constitutive of contemporary discourse at the time, helped to shape events in the art world around 1968.
  • See, for example, L.R. Lippard, ‘Prefaces to Catalogues of Women’s Exhibitions (three parts)’, From the Center, op. cit., p.49.
  • On this distinction between two types of criticism, see Helmut Draxler, Gefärhliche Substanzen: Zum Verhältnis von Kritik und Kunst, Berlin: b_books/ PoLYpeN, 2006.