Lucy Lippard (1937) is an American writer, art critic, curator and activist whose reflections have been at the centre of contemporary discussions of feminism, identity, and life’s capacity to transform art. Lippard will be presenting the seventh lecture within the lecture series of Museo Reina Sofía, which on this occasion will be complemented by a workshop led by Lippard herself.
Lippard’s work has been central to a number of contemporary debates including the dematerialization of art in the late 1960s, artistic protests against the Vietnam War in 1970, feminist identity, the aesthetics of social minorities in US, and, more recently, the relationships between art, territory and ecology. However, her trajectory has gradually led her away from art institutions and the art system and into approaching art from life itself.
Since 2010, the academic year of the Study Centre is inaugurated and closed with a lecture. Linda Nochlin, T. J. Clark, Hans Belting, Simón Marchán, Benjamin Buchloh, and Nelly Richard have each explored in their lectures different methodological approaches and tensions affecting art history in recent years. In this seventh lecture the programme has been renamed the Juan Antonio Ramírez Chair by the Museo in homage to the art historian and lecturer Juan Antonio Ramírez (1948–2009), the founder of the MA in Contemporary Art History and Visual Culture, run by the Autonomous and Complutense Universities of Madrid and the Museo Reina Sofía, and a tireless advocate of the ethical and conceptual possibilities of modern and contemporary art.
The Juan Antonio Ramírez Chair, with its annual master lectures, sets out to constitute a space of reflection on art history in terms of its limits and vanishing points, understood as a discourse with specific attributes (iconic-visual, according to Ramírez) and hugely important to contemporary society during times of image overload. Moreover, owing to his publications on the comic, mass culture, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, architecture and cinema, Ramírez will undoubtedly be remembered as a tireless spokesperson against the disappearance of the discipline from the curriculums of secondary education and as an outspoken intellectual who defended copyright. It is this belief in the current need to defend art in its freest and most inventive and original form that has led the Museo to create the Juan Antonio Ramírez Chair, with its first focal point being Lucy Lippard, an intellectual whose work straddles curatorship, critique, academia and institutional experimentation.
As an intellectual introduction and opening statement for the discussion around this new lecture, we quote below the author’s own words:
"Conventional wisdom has it that 'art speaks for itself' so even the goal of saying something beyond the artwork can be contentious. James Baldwin said that 'The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers.' That’s an amazing gift…. and responsibility.
I’ve long advocated for art that escapes the artworld and elopes with life –social energies not yet recognized as art. Talking to artist friends (those who led the way out of the art world toward life) I have found that one of the issues that most interests them is how far outside of the art world can artists work and still be satisfied that they’re making art. And still be recognized as artists, not sociologists or 'merely' activists. And still make a living outside of that sandbox we were nurtured in. It’s not easy to totally disavow recognition by the market and the institutions, and if you’ve managed to do it, we probably don’t know what you’re doing. Does it matter? Is it still Art? Who cares?
The dilemma about the artist’s choice between remaining independent and powerless or being co-opted by the powerful mainstream art world is decades long. Perhaps the toughest question we have to ask ourselves is: What do we value most individual success or a collective social victory no matter how apparently small? Over the years a lot of smart things have been said about the possibilities for artists to be in museums and still take on issues, though it may take decades to be accepted...
So, again: What Do We Want to Say? How Do We Want to Say It? Where do we go from here? These questions are directed as much at me as at you. Personally, the temptation to be cynical, nasty, and bridge-burning can be overwhelming, but that puts us in the same bag as the opposition. There’s a line between skepticism and cynicism. Someone said: 'Pessimism is a waste of time'. And optimists are dissed as Utopian and politically reactionary. It’s true that we need to be down to earth. But we also need something to hope for, to long for, to reach for. I hardly ever give a talk without citing Antonio Gramsci: Pessimism of the Intellect Optimism of the Will. I don’t think it’s ever been better said."
Lucy Lippard, Julay 2018
Education programme developed with the patronage of the Fundación Banco Santander