Nick Mauss in Artforum, 2009

The Poem Will Resemble You

by Nick Mauss, 2009

The Poem Will Resemble You

I have never seen a performance by Lorraine O’Grady. Yet even their documentation communicates a moment in time that was and still is a severe interruption. I can’t claim to fully understand what I’m looking at. The continual internal refraction in O’Grady’s art forbids assimilation, yet this struggle to come to terms with her work’s implications – the inability to fix O’Grady’s art in a framework that is already known – strikes at the core of her major artistic contribution.

O’Grady, who first gained visibility in the art world in the early 1980s through her invasions of openings at venues such as the then-new New Museum and the black avant-garde gallery Just Above Midtown, insisted that there could be a complex subjectivity outside “whiteness” and”blackness.” In Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, 1980-83, O’Grady embodied her alter ego, a debutante from Cayenne, French Guiana, dressed in a cape and gown made from 180 pairs of debutante’s white gloves. She carried a cat-o’-nine-tails spiked with chrysanthemums and whipped herself while shouting vituperative poems. At Just Above Midtown, she railed:

THAT’S ENOUGH!
No more boot-licking . . .
No more ass-kissing . . .
No more buttering-up . . .
No more pos . . . turing
of super-ass . . . imilates . . .
BLACK ART MUST TAKE MORE RISKS!!!

And at the New Museum, she jeered:

WAIT
wait in your alternate/alternate spaces
spitted on fish hooks of hope [. . .]
THAT’S ENOUGH don’t you know
sleeping beauty needs
more than a kiss to awake
now is the time for an INVASION!

Within the safe zones of these restricted communities “Miss Black Middle Class” inserted hybridity and disagreement into (…)

Download full PDF