Art Fag City, 2012

Lorraine O’Grady: Unnatural Attitudes

by Alana Chloe Esposito, 2012

Lorraine O’Grady is engaging audiences across the spectrum of Manhattan cultural institutions these days, sharing her insights as a conceptual artist and cultural critic.  Last Monday she participated in a scripted conversation at MoMA with the visual and performance artist Adam Pendleton, who presented a live “portrait” of her.  From there, she skipped down to the East Village, where she was the subject of Performa’s inaugural public event series examining the works and lives of seminal artists.  Over the next week she will perform in concert with the Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran installation at the Whitney Biennial and converse with Linda Goode-Bryant at the Studio Museum in parallel to the exhibition Shift.  Meanwhile, her recent video work Landscape (Western Hemisphere) (2011) is currently on view at Alexander Gray Associates, presented along with two reformatted photomontages from her iconic BodyGround series, 1991-2012, in an exhibition entitled New Worlds.

It is hardly the first time O’Grady’s presence can be felt simultaneously at “establishment” and “alternative” New York art venues. Indeed, she carried out her debut guerrilla performances at the New Museum and Just Above Midtown, making sure to shake up the art world from all sides with her insistence that maintaining parallel, racially segregated cultural circles was bullshit.

Today, O’Grady’s ideas about race and feminism no longer seem radical, yet they still contribute powerfully to the public discourse in a society that has yet to fully come to terms with its messy past.  This spring has been marred bu right-wing attacks on women’s rights and the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American whose white killer has been released from prison on bail.  Perhaps these events produced a yearning for a sophisticated, nuanced discussion about oppression and cultural subjectivity, the very issues that have been central to O’Grady’s work throughout her career? Is that why she is so hot right now? ( . . . )

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