Writing in Space, 1973–2019

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 58 illustrations, incl. 39 in color Published: November 2020

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Feminist Art

Writing in Space, 1973-2019 gathers the writings of conceptual artist Lorraine O'Grady, who for over forty years has investigated the complicated relationship between text and image. A firsthand account of O'Grady's wide-ranging practice, this volume contains statements, scripts, and previously unpublished notes charting the development of her performance work and conceptual photography; her art and music criticism that appeared in the Village Voice and Artforum; critical and theoretical essays on art and culture, including her classic "Olympia's Maid"; and interviews in which O'Grady maps, expands, and complicates the intellectual terrain of her work. She examines issues ranging from black female subjectivity to diaspora and race and representation in contemporary art, exploring both their personal and their institutional implications. O'Grady's writings—introduced in this collection by critic and curator Aruna D'Souza—offer a unique window into her artistic and intellectual evolution while consistently plumbing the political possibilities of art.


“Lorraine O'Grady's work has always been driven by embodied experiences, questioning the construction of identity and what it means to be human. This extraordinary volume charts O'Grady's fascinating musings on these subjects, tracing and shedding new light on her impressive forty-year career whilst highlighting the urgency and continued relevance of her work in our current moment. O'Grady once told me, ‘Everything I do could be a book’; this publication goes some way toward meeting that possibility.” — Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries

“Lorraine O'Grady is one of the foremost conceptual artists of the last century. Writing in Space, 1973-2019 is an indispensable contribution to our appreciation of the breadth and innovation of her singular practice; it asks us to think beyond rigid boundaries that prevent a nuanced consideration of the mutually transformative power of ‘text’ and ‘image.’ O'Grady's practice creates new worlds, wherein photography, criticism, literature, and history leave the reader with a renewed sense of creative possibility.” — Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem

"This is the first book to offer a comprehensive overview of O’Grady’s writing. Monumental texts, canonical essays, interviews, performance transcripts, and previously unpublished material form the edited volume, affirming both the range and reach of the artist’s significant impact upon an art world that has only belatedly recognized her. . . . The book establishes O’Grady’s literary brilliance that shines through her multifaceted creative practice, as she consistently pushes the art world toward deeper thought and political consciousness." — Alexandra M. Thomas, Hyperallergic

"Lorraine O’Grady’s importance as a performance artist has tended to overshadow her talent as a writer. Ahead of a Brooklyn Museum retrospective due next year, critic and art historian Aruna D’Souza put together a must-read volume featuring O’Grady’s shrewd musings on her own work, the intersections of Blackness and gender, and notions of visibility."
  — Alex Greenberger, ARTnews

"A deeply nourishing account of her life, from the years preceding her full approach to artistry and criticism until recent times. . . . Such a collection, 46 years into O’Grady’s exceptional career, reflects how the art industry has long excluded Black women artists. It is a delicate and difficult read, and a manifestation of the many possibilities embedded in thoughtful collaboration between an artist and editor who have been longtime supporters of each other’s work." — Tyra A. Seals, Art Papers

"This volume is more than a collection of writing by an important artist whose work and thoughts have very belatedly come to larger attention. It is an extremely eloquent analysis of the New York art world since 1973 by one of the most articulate and profound conceptual artists to address questions of race, class, diasporic identity, non-Western philosophy and aesthetics and female subjectivity." — Andrea Kirsh, The Art Blog


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lorraine O'Grady is an artist whose work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in museums and galleries throughout the world, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Modern, and the Palais de Tokyo. Her art can be seen in numerous public collections throughout the United States and Europe. A major retrospective of her work, Both/And, opens at the Brooklyn Museum in November 2020.

Aruna D'Souza is an art critic, curator, and author, most recently of Whitewalling: Art, Race, and Protest in 3 Acts.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations  ix
Acknowledgments  xiii
Introduction: For Those Who Will Know / Aruna D'Souza  xix
1. Statements and Performance Transcripts
Two Biographical Statements (2012 and 2019)  1
Cutting Out the New York Times (CONYT), 1977 (2006)  6
Mlle Bourgeoise Noire 1955 (1981)  8
Rivers, First Draft, 1982: Working Script, Cast List, Production Credits (1982)  11
Statement for Moira Roth re: Art Is . . ., 1983 (2007)  23
Body Is the Ground of My Experience, 1991: Image Descriptions (2010)  27
Studies for a Sixteen-Diptych Installation to Be Called Flowers of Evil and Good, 1995–Present (1998)  30
2. Writing in Space
Performance Statement #1: Thoughts about Myself, When Seen as a Political Performance Artist (181)  37
Performance Statement #2: Why Judson Memorial? or, Thoughts about the Spiritual Attitudes of My Work (1982)  40
Performance Statement #3: Thinking Out Loud: About Performance Art and My Place in It (1983)  43
Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline (1977) 50
Interview with Cecilia Alemani: Living Symbols of New Epochs (2010)  53
Interview with Amanda Hunt on Art Is . . .  (2015)  60
On Creating a Counter-confessional Poetry (2018)  64
3. Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity
Black Dreams (1982)  69
Interview with Linda Montano (1986)  77
Dada Meets Mama: Lorraine O'Grady on WAC (1992)  84
The Cave: Lorraine O'Grady on Black Women Film Directors (1992) 88
Olympia's Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity (1992/1994)  94
Mlle Bourgeoise Noire and Feminism (2007)  110
4. Hybridity, Diaspora, and Thinking Both/And
On Being the Presence That Signals an Absence (1993)  115
Some Thoughts on Diaspora and Hybridity: An Unpublished Slide Lecture (1994)  119
Flannery and Other Regions (1999)  126
Responding Politicially to William Kentridge (2002)  131
Sketchy Thoughts on My Attraction to the Surrealists (2013)  136
Two Exhibits: The Diptych vs. the Triptych (1998) and Notes on the Diptych (2018)  139
Introducing: Lorraine O'Grady and Juliana Huxtable (2016)  142
5. Other Art Worlds
A Day at the Races: Lorraine O'Grady on Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Black Art World (1993)  169
SWM: On Sean Landers (1994)  176
Poison Ivy (1998)  181
The Black and White Show, 1982 (2009)  184
Email Q&A with Artforum Editor (2009)  198
My 1980s (2012)  203
Rivers and Just Above Midtown (2013, 2015)  213
6. Retrospectives
Interview with Laura Cottingham (1995)  219
Interview with Jarrett Earnest (2016)  239
The Mlle Bourgeoise Noire Project, 1980–1983 (2018)  250
Job History (from a Feminist "Retrospective") (2004)  260
First There Is a Mountain, Then There Is No Mountain, Then . . . ? (1973)  269
The Wailers and Bruce Springsteen at Max's Kansas City, July 18 1973 (1973)  278
Notes  287
Index  311
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