Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, O'Grady's first public performance, remains the artist's best known work. The persona first appeared in 1980 under the Futurist dictum that art has the power to change the world and was in part created as a critique of the racial apartheid still prevailing in the mainstream art world.
Wearing a costume made of 180 pairs of white gloves from Manhattan thrift shops and carrying a white cat-o-nine-tails made of sail rope from a seaport store and studded with white chrysanthemums, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (Miss Black Middle-Class) 1955 was an equal-opportunity critic. She gave timid black artists and thoughtless white institutions each a "piece of her mind." Her first invasion of an art opening unannounced was of Just Above Midtown, the black avant-garde gallery. Her second was of the recently opened New Museum of Contemporary Art.
But beyond her guerrilla invasions of art spaces, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire was a state of mind. Even when not in costume and when using her own name, the political aspect of O'Grady's art would be under her inspiration for a four-year period. MBN "events" were surreptitiously indicated when O'Grady pinned white gloves to her clothing.
Though the performances were a "failure" -- the art world would not become meaningfully integrated until the Adrian Piper and David Hammons exhibits of 1988-89 -- Mlle Bourgeoise Noire had a mythic aftermath. Two images, of her beating herself with the whip and of her shouting the poem, were widely reproduced without an explanatory context, becoming empty signifiers that added to the mystification and misunderstanding surrounding the work. But then in the mid-90s, the costume was purchased by Peter and Eileen Norton. And finally, in 2007, it was positioned as an entry point to WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, the first-ever museum exhibit of the originating period of feminist art.
Unpublished email exchange, 1998The most comprehensive and focused interview of O’Grady to date, this Q & A by a Duke University doctoral candidate benefited from the slowness of the email format, the African American feminist scholar’s deep familiarity with O’Grady’s work, and their personal friendship.
© Lorraine O'Grady, 2007For WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, the first-ever museum exhibit of feminist art, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A., O’Grady was asked to record an audio statement for the cell-phone tour to explain how her piece related to the show’s theme.
© Lorraine O'Grady, 2007As part of her gallery talk for WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution at MOCA, L.A., O’Grady read this statement inspired by Marsha Meskimmon’s important catalogue essay, in which the theoretical underpinning for the show’s historic statement of including 50% non-U.S. artists had been laid out.
© Lorraine O'Grady, 2007O’Grady posted this brief synopsis of the performance and its background on the WACK! exhibit’s excellent website. She also posted 13 largely unknown photos-with-captions documenting the performance, which had become a victim to its two most well-known images. Lacking a full context, they had become empty signifiers.
June 1986*Montano’s questions on “ritual” for Performance Artists Talking cast interesting light on the connection between O’Grady’s early life and her performances. The unedited transcript of the interview contains answers in greater depth on Mlle Bourgeoise Noire and Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline.
By Holland Cotter. 2007Opening of the first-ever museum show of feminist art at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Holland Cotter’s feature-length review was illustrated by four works, including Mlle Bourgeoise Noire.
by KITO NEDO. 2008Review of feminist art show with 25 artists in exhibition, plus 80 in video archive, makes special mention of O’Grady and three other artists, including Valie Export, Yoko Ono, and Gabrielle Stötzer.
Judith Wilson, 1991Catalogue essay written for O’Grady’s first gallery solo exhibition, “Lorraine O’Grady,” INTAR Gallery, 420 W 42nd Street, New York City, January 21 – February 22, 1991.
by ANDREA MILLER-KELLER. 1995Brochure article written for the one-person exhibit “Lorraine O’Grady / MATRIX 127,” The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, May 21 – Aug 20, 1995.
by Dmitry Komis. 2007Review of a group show in which O’Grady’s interventions in the guise of Mlle Bourgeoise Noire are described as a precursor to the work of the Guerrilla Girls and others.
By Patricia Rosoff. 1995“Lorraine O’Grady, The Space Between, MATRIX/127,” The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, May 21 – Aug 20, 1995. Review discusses this two-part installation exhibit: Miscegenated Family Album and Mlle Bourgeoise Noire.
by Nick Mauss, 2009Mauss’s article for Artforum is, with Wilson’s INTAR catalogue essay, one of the most extended and authoritative pieces on O’Grady’s oeuvre to date. It was one-half of a two-article feature that also included O’Grady’s artist portfolio for The Black and White Show.
© 2009 Lorraine O'Grady | All rights reserved.