Lorraine O'Grady (born 1934) is an American conceptual artist, who has worked in the areas of performance art and photo and video installation. Her work locates universal and timeless values in such topical issues as diaspora, hybridity, and black female subjectivity. It also attempts a shift in art discourse to show how these topics have influenced the history of modernism.
O'Grady studied economics and literature at Wellesley College before becoming an artist in 1980. In the 1980s, she created the adopted persona of 'Mlle Bourgeoise Noire' to invade art openings while wearing a gown made of 180 pairs of white gloves, beating herself with a white cat-o-nine-tails and shouting out poems that railed against a still-segregated art world she perceived as not looking beyond a small circle of friends. Beginning in 1991 she added photo installations to her conceptually based work. And in 2007, she made her first video installation during a residency at Artpace in San Antonio, Texas.
Her strongly feminist work has been widely exhibited, particularly in New York and Europe. O'Grady's early 'Mlle Bourgeoise Noire' performance was given new recognition when it was made an entry-point to the landmark exhibit WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, the first mainstream museum show of this groundbreaking art movement. And recently her practice, seemingly located at and defining the cusp between modernism and a "not-quite-post-modernist" present, has become the subject of increased interest. It received a two-article cover feature in the May 2009 issue of Artforum Magazine and, in December 2009, was given a one-person exhibit in the U.S.'s most important contemporary art fair, Art Basel Miami Beach. Subsequently, O'Grady was one of 55 artists selected for inclusion in the 2010 Whitney Biennial. Her work also featured in the seminal exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art.
O'Grady's late start—she first exhibited at 45, after successful careers among others as an intelligence analyst, translator, and rock critic—may have contributed to unusually broad perspective in her work as both an artist and writer. In addition to articles she has written for publications such as Artforum Magazine and Art Lies, her canonical essay, "Olympia's Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity," has now been anthologized numerous times, most recently in Amelia Jones, ed, The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader, 2nd Edition, Routledge, 2010.
In 1995-96, O'Grady held the Bunting Fellowship in Visual Art at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study. There she became immersed in the internet during its early years. Her own website, lorraineogrady.com, not inaugurated until 2008, is a model of artist archival design. Later, in 2011, after the unexpected expansion of her career, she added a new, project website, lorraineogrady2.com. Its first project, "Work Development," is a PDF illustrated mapping of the original site with links to clarify how motifs in the work have emerged.
Since 1997, O'Grady has been a Senior Fellow of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, New School University. In 2008, she received an Anonymous Was A Woman award and, in 2011, she was named United States Artists Rockefeller Fellow in Visual Art.
O'Grady has work in the permanent collections of the The Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley; MA Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, Cambridge, MA; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN and Worcester Art Museum, MA.
She lives and works in the Meatpacking District of New York City.
In pop culture
A review by O'Grady of the night Bob Marley and the Wailers opened for Bruce Springsteen at Max's Upstairs in Manhattan, July 18, 1973, was rejected at the time by her Village Voice editor, who said "It's too soon for them." The review was first published nearly 40 years later in Max's Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock and Roll, 2010, a photo book with texts by Lou Reed, Lenny Kaye, Danny Fields, Lorraine O’Grady, and Steven Watson.
- Linda M. Montano, Performance Artists Talking in the Eighties, University of California Press, 2000, p513. ISBN 0-520-21022-0
- Art in America, July 1994
- Cotter, Holland (26 September 2008). "Art in Review". New York Times.
- Anonymous Was A Woman Official Website
- United States Artists Official Website
- lorraineogrady.com, contains the artist's images, performances and writings, as well as press, bios, and photos
- lorraineogrady2.com, a project website whose first project, the illustrated PDF Work Development, maps the earlier website to show how the work's motifs emerge
- alexandergray.com, website of Alexander Gray Associates, Lorraine O'Grady's Chelsea/New York gallery, contains images and press, plus her updated long-form CV
- PS1 radio interview, Lorraine O'Grady in conversation with Connie Butler, curator of WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution
- Mlle Bourgeoise Noire performance synopsis, with images, at moca.org