Mierle Laderman Ukeles

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Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Born1939 (1939)
Alma materBarnard College, Pratt Institute, New York University, University of Colorado
Notable work
  • Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969! Proposal for an Exhibition "CARE" (1969)
  • Maintenance Art Tasks (1973)
  • Hartford Wash: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside (1973)
  • Hartford Wash: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Inside (1973)
  • Touch Sanitation (1978-80)
MovementFeminist art movement Conceptual Art
Spouse(s)Jacob Ukeles
AwardsFrancis J. Greenburger Award, Art Omi, 2019, Public Art Dialogue Award, Anonymous Was A Woman Award

Mierle Laderman Ukeles (born 1939, Denver, Colorado[1]) is a New York City-based artist known for her feminist and service-oriented artwork, which relates the idea of process in conceptual art to domestic and civic "maintenance".[2][3][4][5] She is the Artist-in-Residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation and creates art that brings to life the very essence of any urban center: waste flows, recycling, sustainability, environment, people, and ecology.


As an undergraduate, Ukeles studied history and international studies at Barnard College and later began her artistic training at the Pratt Institute in New York.[2] Ukeles is Jewish and the daughter of a rabbi.[6] She earned a Master's degree from New York University in 1974 in Inter-related Arts.[7] She is married and has three children.

In 1969 she wrote a manifesto entitled Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969! Proposal for an exhibition "CARE", challenging the domestic role of women and proclaiming herself a "maintenance artist". Aside from "personal" or household maintenance, the manifesto also addressed "general" or public maintenance and earth maintenance, such as addressing polluted waters. Her exhibitions were intended to bring awareness to the low cultural status of maintenance work, generally paying either minimum wage or no payments for housewives.[8] Maintenance, for Ukeles, includes the household activities that keep things going, such as cooking, cleaning and child-rearing[9][3] and during her exhibitions, she performed the same tasks that she would perform in her daily life, including entertaining guests.[10]

Several of her performances in the 1970s involved the maintenance of art spaces, including the Wadsworth Atheneum. Since 1977 she has been the Artist in Residence (unsalaried) of the New York City Department of Sanitation.[11] She is the only artist to ever hold that position.[12] In 2019, she received the Francis J. Greenburger Award for artists whom the art world knows to be of extraordinary merit but who have not been fully recognized by the public.[13]

In 1989, Ukeles was commissioned by the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, to work on the reclamation project to transform the 2200-acre, largest manmade site, to a recreational park known as Freshkills Park. Ukeles invited New Yorkers from all five boroughs to contribute palm-sized artworks made of trash.[14] After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Fresh Kills was used as a temporary sorting facility for rubble and remains.

Concepts and methodologies[edit]

The role of the artist for Ukeles is that of an activist: empowering people to act and change societal values and norms. This agenda stems from a feminist concern with challenging the privileged and gendered notion of the independent artist. For Ukeles, art is not fixed and complete but an ongoing process that is connected to everyday life and her Manifesto for Maintenance Art proclaims the infection of art by everyday mundane activities.[15] The gargantuan domestic actions that she performed primarily became inaugurated out of her role as artist and mother in the 70s. After the birth of her first child in 1968, Ukeles believes that her public identity as an artist slipped into second place, because of the public perception of the role of a mother.[16]

Manifesto For Maintenance Art 1969![edit]

Initially written as a proposal for an exhibition entitled Care, the Manifesto For Maintenance Art emphasizes maintenance—keeping things clean, working and cared for—as a creative strategy. The manifesto came about after Ukeles gave birth to her first child, suddenly she had to balance her time as artist and mother, and had little time to create art, she noted that the famous male artists that she admired never had to make such sacrifices.[17][18] She has described this feeling and the epiphany that lead to the manifesto in this way, "I felt like two separate people...the free artists and the mother/maintenance worker.... I was never working so hard in my whole life, trying to keep together the two people I had become. Yet people said to me, when they saw me pushing my baby carriage, "Do you do anything?"...Then I had an epiphany... I have the freedom to name maintenance as art. I can collide freedom into its supposed opposite and call that art. I name necessity art."[19]

The manifesto is formed into two major parts. In part I, under the rubric 'Ideas' she makes a distinction between the two basic systems of 'Development' and 'Maintenance', where the former is associated with 'pure individual creation', 'the new', 'change' and the latter is tasked with 'keep the dust off the pure individual creation, preserve the new, sustain the change'. She asks, "after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?".[20] This contrasts with the modernist tradition in which the originality of an artist is foregrounded and the mundane material reality of an artist's everyday life is disregarded.[21] “Avant-garde art, which claims utter development, is infected by strains of maintenance ideas, maintenance activities, and maintenance materials…”

The second part describes her proposal for the exhibition and is made up of three parts A) Part One: Personal, B) Part Two: General and C) Part Three: Earth Maintenance. She begins with the statement “I am an artist. I am a woman. I am a wife. I am a mother. (Random order) I do a hell of a lot of washing, cleaning, cooking, renewing, supporting, preserving, etc. Also, (up to now separately) I ‘do’ Art. Now I will simply do these everyday things, and flush them up to consciousness, exhibit them, as Art [...] MY WORKING WILL BE THE WORK”[22]

Touch Sanitation (1979-80)[edit]

Touch Sanitation is one of Ukeles’ most ambitious early projects and a milestone in the history of performance art.[21] Taking almost a year, Ukeles met over 8500 employees of the New York Sanitation Department, shaking hands with each of them and saying, “Thank you for keeping New York City alive”.[23] She documented her activities on a map, meticulously recording her conversations with the workers. Ukeles documented the workers' private stories in an attempt to change some of the negative words used in the public sphere of society, using her art as an agent of change to challenge conventional stereotypes.[24]

Honors and awards[edit]

Laderman Ukeles was given honorary doctorates from: School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, and Maine College of Art, Portland, ME.

She has been awarded several prestigious awards and fellowships including:

Francis J. Greenburger Award, Art Omi,[25] 2019, Charlotta Kotik, Presenter

Public Art Dialogue Award, College Art Association,[26] 2017

Lily Auchincloss Foundation, 2015

The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, 2015.

Queens Museum Honoree, 2015.

Ann Chamberlain Distinguished Fellow, San Francisco Art Institute, 2010.

Jewish Cultural Achievement Awards, National Foundation for Jewish Culture, 2003.

Anonymous was a Woman Foundation Award, 2001.


  • Manifesto For Maintenance Art 1969! Proposal for an Exhibition "CARE" (1969) - a proposal for an exhibition to display maintenance work as contemporary art,[10][27] which was published in Artforum in 1971. Ukeles then participated in Lucy Lippard's traveling exhibition of conceptual female artists c. 7,500 (1973–74) and fourteen other exhibitions and interventions in museums followed, including in the Wadsworth Atheneum.[28]
  • Maintenance Art Tasks (1973) - a photograph collection of household activities performed by Laderman Ukeles and her husband, with 12 to 90 images per activity.[29]
  • Maintenance Art Tasks performances at the Wadsworth Atheneum, 1973 - During the course of 1973, Laderman performed The Keeping of the Keys (July 20, 1973), Transfer: The Maintenance of the Art Object: Mummy Maintenance: With the Maintenance Man, The Maintenance Artist, and the Museum Conservator (July 20, 1973),[30] Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Inside and Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside (July 23, 1973) at the Wadsworth Atheneum[31][3]
  • Hartford Wash: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside (1973)[32][3]
  • Hartford Wash: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Inside (1973)[3]
  • Touch Sanitation (1978–80)[4]: 271 
  • The Work Ballets, seven ballets for large-machinery that took place intermittently between 1983 and 2013 in Rotterdam, New York City, Givors, Pittsburgh and Echigo-Tsumari. They are the subject of Ukeles' first monograph published by Sternberg Press in 2015 and edited by Kari Conte.[33]
  • Turnaround Surround, "Glassphalt" path in Danehy Park in North Cambridge, Massachusetts. Park is built on site of a dump and landfill closed in 1972. (1997-2002)[34]


  • "A Journey: Earth/City/Flow." Art Journal (Summer 1992): 12-14.
  • "Maintenance Art Activity (1973)." Documents 10 (Fall 1977):8.
  • "Manifesto For Maintenance Art 1969! Proposal for an exhibition 'Care'."; Originally published in Jack Burnham. "Problems of Criticism." Artforum (January 1971) 41; reprinted in Lucy Lippard. Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object. New York:New York University Press, 1979: 220-221.
  • "Sanitation Manifesto! (1984)." The Act 2, no.1, (1990): 84-85.
  • Ukeles, Mierle Laderman and Alexandra Schwartz. "Mierle Laderman Ukeles in conversation with Alexandra Schwartz." in Butler, Cornelia et al.From Conceptualism to Feminism: Lucy Lippard's Numbers Shows 1969-1974 London: Afterall, 2012.


  1. ^ Phaidon Editors (2019). Great women artists. Phaidon Press. p. 409. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  2. ^ a b Krug, Don. "Ecological Restoration: Mierle Ukeles, Flow City". Art & Ecology: Perspectives and Issues. greenmuseum.org. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Liss, Andrea (2009). Feminist art and the maternal ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 43–68. ISBN 978-0816646234. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b Finkelpearl, Tom (2013). What we made : conversations on art and social cooperation. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0822352891. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  5. ^ Phillips, Patricia C.; Finkelpearl, Tom; Harris, Larissa; Lippard, Lucy; Raicovich, Laura (2016). Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art. Prestel. ISBN 9783791355382.
  6. ^ https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/138254/mierle-laderman-ukeles
  7. ^ Lagnado, Caroline. "Repairing (And Cleaning) The World". jewishweek.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  8. ^ "Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969." Queens Museum. Retrieved on 2017-12-01.
  9. ^ Bird, Jon; Newman, Michael (1999). Rewriting conceptual art. London: Reaktion. pp. 114–5. ISBN 1861890524. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  10. ^ a b "Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969 Archived 2012-08-31 at the Wayback Machine." Feldman Gallery. Retrieved on 2014-02-02.[better source needed]
  11. ^ Trash Talk: The Department of Sanitation’s Artist in Residence Is a Real Survivor | Gallerist. Galleristny.com. Retrieved on 2014-02-02.
  12. ^ "Meet Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Jewish Mother to the NYC Sanitation Department". Tablet Magazine. 2013-07-22. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  13. ^ "Francis J. Greenburger Award". artomi.org. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  14. ^ Skinner, Conrad (2010-05-23). "Mierle Ukeles: Garbage and Ritual". AdobeAirstream. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  15. ^ Stratford, Helen; Hinchcliffe, Daniel (2003). Collective Assemblages. Bristol: Intellect. pp. 107–117. ISBN 9781841508511.
  16. ^ Jackson, Shannon (2011). Social works : the infrastructural politics of performance. London: Routledge. pp. 82–93. ISBN 9780415486019.
  17. ^ Sample, Hilary (2016). Maintenance Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 65–67. ISBN 978-0262335362. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  18. ^ Butler, Cornelia (2007). Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution. MIT Press. p. 311.
  19. ^ Yngvason, Hafthor (2002). Conservation and Maintenance of Contemporary Public Art. London: Archetype. p. 9.
  20. ^ Laderman Ukeles, Mierle (1969). "Manifesto for Maintenance Ar 1969!" (PDF). Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 August 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  21. ^ a b Knight, Sarah (2013) "Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art Works 1969–1980 Exhibition Guide" Arnolfini, Bristol
  22. ^ "Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art Works 1969–1980". e-flux. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  23. ^ Ukeles, Mierle Laderman. "Interview." Coordinated by Erin Salazer, Bronx Museum TCG (Spring/Summer 2006).
  24. ^ Krug, Dan (2006). "Ecological Restoration Mierle Ukeles, Flow City". Green Museum. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  25. ^ Selvin, Claire (2019-03-15). "Art Omi Names Winners of 2019 Francis J. Greenburger Award". ARTnews. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  26. ^ "Annual Award | Public Art Dialogue". publicartdialogue.org. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  27. ^ "Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969 — Arnolfini" Archived 2016-04-19 at the Wayback Machine. www.arnolfini.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  28. ^ Western, Mirjam (2010). Rebelle. De Rijn, Arnhem: Museum voor Modern Kunst Arnhem. p. 254. ISBN 978-90-72861-45-0.
  29. ^ Jason Waite, "House of Invisible Cards" in Maintenance Required exhibition catalog for exhibition "Maintenance Required" at The Kitchen, 512 W 19th St, New York, NY, May 30-June 22, 2013. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2013: 56.
  30. ^ Molesworth, Helen Anne (2003). Work ethic : publ. in conjunction with the exhibition "Work ethic" held at The Baltimore Museum of Art, 12 October 2003 - 4 January 2004 : Des Moines Art Center, 15 May - 1 August 2004 ; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, 18 September 2004 - 2 January 2005. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 135. ISBN 9780271023342. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  31. ^ Copy of Mierle Laderman Ukeles resume by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Gallery. Brooklyn Museum.[better source needed]
  32. ^ Hill, Wes (2014). "Mierle Laderman Ukeles Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane 420 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley October 11, 2014–November 29, 2014". artforum.com. Artforum International Magazine. Archived from the original on 24 March 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  33. ^ Ukeles, Mierle Laderman; Conte, Kari (2015). Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Seven Work Ballets. Kunstverein. ISBN 9783943365931.
  34. ^ "Turnaround Surround". Cambridge Public Art. Retrieved 22 September 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Buckberrough, Sherry, and Andrea Miller-Keller. Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Matrix 137. (exhibition catalogue) Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1998.
  • Jackson, Shannon. "High Maintenance: The Sanitation Aesthetics of Mierle Laderman Ukeles." In Social Works: performing art, supporting publics, 75-103. New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • Knaup, Bettina and Stammer, Beatrice Ellen. "Labour of Love and Care". In re.act feminism #2 - a performing archive Live Art Development Agency 2013.
  • Kwon, Miwon. "In Appreciation of Invisible Work: Mierle Laderman Ukeles and the Maintenance of the 'White Cube'." Documents 10, (Fall 1997):15-18.
  • Molesworth, Helen. “Cleaning Up in the 1970s: The Work of Judy Chicago, May Kelly and Mierle Laderman Ukeles,” in Rewriting Conceptual Art. Ed. Michael Newman and Jon Bird. London: Reaktion, 1999. 107-122.
  • Molesworth, Helen. "House Work and Art Work." October 92, (Spring 2000):71-97.
  • Molesworth, Helen. "Work Stoppages: Mierle Laderman Ukeles' Theory of Labor Value." Documents 10 (Fall 1997): 19-22.
  • Philips, Patricia C., "Maintenance Activity: Creating a Climate for Change." In But is it Art? Nina Felshin, Seattle Bay Press 1995: 165-193.
  • Erin Salazer. "Mierle Laderman Ukeles Interview." Coordinated by Erin Salazer, Bronx Museum TCG (Spring/Summer 2006):14-21.
  • Stiles, Kristine and Selz, Peter (eds) "Maintenance Art Manifesto" and "Sanitation Manifesto!" In Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art University of California Press, 1996: 623-625.
  • Stratford, Helen. "Collective Assemblages, Embodiment and Enunciations." In Recoveries and Reclamations: Advances in Art and Urban Futures vol.2 Daniel Hinchcliffe and Judith Rugg (eds) Intellect 2003: 107-117.

External links[edit]