Shadow Boxing with the Status Quo
by Patricia Rosoff, 1995
Artist Lorraine O’Grady refuses to treat the art world with kid gloves
Lorraine O’Grady, transfigured into a tiaraed beauty queen and identified by her sash as Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire 1955 [Miss Black Middle Class], barged her way onto the New York art scene in the early 1980s. Quite ceremoniously, though completely unannounced, she literally stormed in as a cultural critic, crashing hoity-toity art openings and demanding straight out that black artists “take off the white gloves” and “invade” the art world.
In this single considered act, O’Grady, English professor, Rolling Stone rock critic, former State Department economist and self-taught Egyptologist, brought together a variety of disparate threads in her life—her patchworked personal background, her intellectual strivings, her eclectic interests, her I-refuse-to-be-conventionalized outlook—and found herself mid-career standing in a place that denied none of thee roots and expressed them all. Under the commodious umbrella of performance art, O’Grady became, in short, an artist.
Now, as the scope of her work widens, leaving behind the more ephemeral theatricality of performance art and reaching for a more contemplative visual arena, O’Grady is featured in her first one-person museum exposure, Lorraine O’Grady: The Space Between, at the Wadsworth Atheneum.
It’s a choice that acknowledges O’Grady’s emerging status “as an important national figure in contemporary art,” according to Andrea Miller-Keller, Emily Hall Tremaine curator of contemporary art at the Wadsworth Atheneum.
O’Grady is a black woman whose work subjectively addresses her own experiences, yet she refuses to be characterized in any way as a spokesperson for the black experience. It’s a big point with her, an issue of self-determination and of fundamental respect for the complexity of blackness. Her work in general targets just this kind of oversimplification, which she feels comes from the hierarchical ( … )