Discussion of O’Grady’s performance ART IS. . . in a book examining “complicit art.” Johanna Drucker, Sweet Dreams, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. pp. 82-84, 87-88.
by JOHANNA DRUCKER. 2005
Inaugurated in the American domestic environment in the 1950s and expanding globally ever since in all manifestations of broadcast media, electronic and digital, television radically altered the landscape of visual culture.
Visual art, the once privileged domain of image production, began to lose ground to the commercially driven advertisement / entertainment industry at a scale unmatched by its earlier competition with mass-produced printed images. Visual art ceased to be able to compete at the level of the culture industry. Production values in the commercial sector outstripped those in the art sector.
. . . . The advent of conceptual art in the 1960s and 1970s signals the realization that the only valid reinvention of artistic practice had to be grounded in idea rather than production. With no other artistic territory left to occupy, no other identity through which it can achieve viability, fine art retreats to this artistic high ground as the last, and most potent, position it can hold.
What might this mean in relation to a specific work? In an innocent and
somewhat anomalous way, Lorraine O’Grady’s Art Is engages these rhetorical issues though a literal play of framing devices (fig. 4). A photograph records a 1985 [sic] enactment of this piece. It shows children on a Harlem street beaming out from an ornate frame. Their hands clutch its outside edges, supporting the decorative boundaries that enclose their radiant expressions. Their bodies extend beyond—into the space of the street. They are compellingly engaged in the performance of the piece. Art Is escapes the usual art world attempt at self-congratulatory “political” rhetoric and succeeds as a continually challenging, dynamic work. The photograph of the performance of Art Is is at once the record of a piece and a piece in itself. Both are focused on and question the dependency between visual art’s literal and referential borders as a means of its self-definition. This act of bordering/defining as an act of framing has several implications for the notion of the art object’s status as an entity that is discrete, yet permeable, and as an arena of activity....
© 2009 Lorraine O'Grady | All rights reserved.