Lorraine O’Grady very first offered her exhibit of photomontages, Physique Is the Ground of My Knowledge, at INTAR Gallery, New York, in 1991. Motivated by brazen countercultural artwork actions such as Dada and Fluxus, she experienced crashed events at the New Museum and somewhere else, engaged strangers in avenue performances, and staged happenings in Central Park. In her seminal essay of Black feminist believed, “Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity,” O’Grady referred to her transition from live general performance to the “safety of the wall.” And nevertheless, to see the first show’s reprise, at this time on check out at Alexander Gray Associates and which include seven photomontages, is to understand it as something but safe and sound.
O’Grady’s essay positioned her in the at any time-broadening context of Black feminism and anti-colonialist critique, but also as an artist fiercely opposed to the confines of social politics and identity. Why will have to we be either/or, she was asking. A function of piercing evaluation, “Olympia’s Maid” endures as O’Grady’s artistic proclamation — specifically in her insistence that, to preserve its secret, art need to guard jealously in opposition to all idea, even when it will come from resources as important as the writings of her Black feminist compatriots this sort of as bell hooks.
Considerably like her crafting, O’Grady’s photomontages pressure binaries right until a thing other, anything both/and emerges. (Each/And was the title of her vocation retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum.) Take into account her two tetraptychs, “Gaze” and “Dream” (both of those 1991), which collage double portraits of Black sitters, witnessed from the shoulders up. Beneath just about every sitter’s facial area is a scaled-down picture: a double with a a little altered expression. The faces in the more substantial pictures are more tense, as if the gaze’s intentionality has hardened them. From this doubling, of looking at oneself found, emerges a sense of not only staying, but becoming. This is an important duality since, as O’Grady wrote in her essay, in art, critique isn’t every little thing existence — visualizing oneself — is paramount.
O’Grady’s enigmatic diptych “Dracula and the Artist” (1991/2019) most effective encapsulates her perception that an artist need to hold her insider secrets to keep on being invigorating. Dracula obviously serves the artist’s goal to challenge the Victorian imagination, which dictates that the woman system be penned out biologically however codified as often sexually available. Citing O’Grady essay, a single could include that while the White feminine body is codified as sexuality, the Black woman human body, usually implied, is dehumanized, desexed (as in Monet’s 1865 painting, Olympia, for which O’Grady’s essay is titled), or not found at all. In her montage, by contrast, the Black female physique is the subject and, in picturing herself seated at her desk in the image, also authors the entire world. But O’Grady pushes beyond this artwork-historic critique. She appropriates Dracula’s secretive potency as the surplus other — a paradigmatic both of those/and. These kinds of association is instructed by the figure keeping her back to us, and by the lushly dark montage on the right, in which artwork and crepuscular alchemy entwine. On the remaining, subtitled, “Dracula Dreaming,” the Black woman body’s magnetic pull retains teethy combs in mid-air, in a magical conjuring — these very same combs lay tamed in the image on the correct, subtitled, “Dracula Vanquished by Artwork.” In this gorgeously oblique, absorbing do the job, O’Grady leaves the supreme riddle — is the artist vanquished, vanquishing, or equally? — tantalizingly unsolved.
Lorraine O’Grady: Overall body Is the Floor of My Encounter carries on at Alexander Grey Associates (510 West 26th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) via June 11. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.