I first discovered the work of Lee Lozano (1930–1999) in 1997, when reading the reprint of Lucy R. Lippard’s classic chronology of Conceptual art, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. The descriptions of Lozano’s experientially based art from the late 1960s, including Dialogue Piece, General Strike Piece, and Grass Piece, were among the most compelling in the book. Because of the radical nature of these works—making art from talking, from art-world protest, and from the desire to “stay high all day, every day. see what happens”—I thought everyone knew about her. So when Lozano was rediscovered in the early 2000s, having left the art world for good thirty years earlier in her infamous Dropout Piece (1970/72), I was surprised.
The fact that this panel of four male critics and editors drew the largest audience I have seen at any comparable woman’s event tells all about power and the perception of power in the art world today. Intellectual exchange was secondary, the audience being less interested in what the panel had to say than in what it had to say to the panel.
Joan Semmel began by citing Lucy Lippard: the more explicit the imagery, the less evocative the erotic work. Response from panelists was poor until John Kacere broke the ice with a meandering monologue on the mediocrity of porn: “If you’re very hungry, it doesn’t take much to turn you on.” Panelists were asked if their own work turned them on; Kacere again. “You can’t be horny for a month.” Panelists agreed that, in effect, their work was not really porn or even erotic—it just referred to a “beautiful human experience.”
You know how lyrics from pop songs look trite and sometimes embarrassing when written down, but come alive convincingly when performed? It’s the same for artist’s talks. Some excel when presenting in public. If an artist is charismatic, unremarkable work becomes good and good work becomes great. The opposite is also true: interesting work can come across as ordinary. The renowned first-generation Conceptualist Robert Barry is one of those artists whose work—which explores speech, memory, light, time, belief, anticipation, fragility, making connections, and states of flux and change—shines when interpretations are expanded on by others. It’s not that he’s inarticulate. Far from it—the artist speaks clearly, in a straightforward manner. But there was a lack of excitement to his reflections on a six-decade career during a lecture at the Hunter College.
Future generations researching the good old days at the College Art Association’s Annual Conference may take this panel for a distillation of its moment, as it casually splices ideals, philosophy, jargon, celebrity, and non sequitur with talk of art-as-money. We see also the intense longings, the search for uplift, the demands for salvation that are increasingly deposited in art. The most interesting discussion of the panel addressed whether they belong there.
Back at A.I.R. again, there was at last an exception to panel chaos, perhaps because only two panelists—Marcia Tucker and Barbara Haskell, both of them Whitney curators—showed up. With Mary Beth Edelson moderating, their talk was focused. “Changing and Stabilizing Women’s Art from the Curator’s View” was the title, but discussion was about the woes of the curator.
Following the symposium’s keynote presentation, the first panel featured two figures from the highly influential Pictures Generation—the artists Robert Longo and Matt Mullican—along with Morgan Fisher, a substitute for the absent Troy Brauntuch. The panel’s moderator, Julia Robinson of New York University, introduced the speakers and loosely moderated a discussion on their personal and professional experiences with the artist Jack Goldstein, the subject of a retrospective at the Jewish Museum.
The panelists did not all profess to be Marxists, but each addressed the question of being an artist, art worker, or cultural within a class system. The function of art and its translation from a visual object to a Marxist statement were treated from various political and art-world points of view. As with most forums of this kind, alternatives were debated, but no course of action was ratified.