During an e-mail exchange in which they were sharing ideas and work, O'Grady sent Roth a copy of Lucy Lippard's review of Art Is. . . . Roth's questions prompted O'Grady to elaborate on the making and meaning of the performance.
Unpublished email exchange, 2007
Besides working on the piece for Artpace, every day I am trying to do at least one thing for the website. Last night, I typed out the piece Lucy Lippard wrote in 1988 in Z Magazine on Art Is. . ., a performance I did in the Harlem parade (FYI, see the Word document attached). Reading back through 20 years of an archive is like passing yourself on a train going in the opposite direction.
This is a piece (would you call it a performance? or?) that I know of, albeit mainly as a single image... so it is a pleasure to see the admirably complex reading of it by LL. Could you tell me a little more about the history of "Art Is..."?
How and why did you come up with the idea? Were you living in New York? In Manhattan or Harlem or? What artists did you know, feel close to at the time? Writers? Critics? Historians? Activists? And/or...? Who else had written about your work at this time?
I’m not surprised when people don’t know much about Art Is. . . I did it during my “Duchamp” years. At the time, I was teaching the Dadas and the Futurists at SVA and thinking of myself as a purist. Because the piece wasn’t addressed to the art world, I didn’t advertise it. I’ve changed a lot since then! The answers to your questions are fairly intertwined.
When I did the piece I was living in the West Village, in the same building I’d been living since arriving in New York via Chicago in ‘72. . . . I’m definitely a “downtown” type and had dreamt of being in the Village since I was 10 years old. When I was a teenager in the late 40s growing up in Boston, I would devour magazines with pictures of girls in long black skirts, black turtlenecks and black berets, drinking expresso and puffing on cigarettes in 4th Street cafes. By late 1982, I’d been “out” as an artist for more than two years ( ... )
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