Lucy Lippard

Interview with Lucy Lippard conducted at Brenau University, Gainesville, Georgia, sometime in 2000.

Greg: What do you think of this more recent body of Marisol work?

Lucy: Well, it looks a lot like the older body. As I say, I’m really no expert in Marisol. You probably know a lot more about her than I do. You know, I saw her in the ‘60s, and I really haven’t seen her do anything since then. Not that I don’t think she’s a good artist. She just never was one that I particularly got involved with. And then to talk about it, I’m very involved in left politics, and so forth, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with that. I’ll talk about that tonight. The poor children thing: first thing, I’ve been to Cuba several times and children are not all raggedy and poor and running around with goats to sell, and artists sell things to everybody so they can eat.

Greg: Even the Geronimo.

Lucy: I mean, I think that as sculpture, it’s really quite a wonderful thing. And it belongs; everything is nice, too. But I find that they look like cigar store Indians, and this image of Indians is something that contemporary people really try to get rid of. And for a contemporary artist to do this so uncritically is just funny.

Greg: I mean, in DC, they were sort of celebrating it that they felt that they weren’t stereotyped.

Lucy: That they *weren’t* stereotyped? How did they get that?

Greg: Mainly with the facial features.

Lucy: Curtis’s photographs, he did it very genuinely. And I’m sure she’s doing it genuinely, too. But he ran around kind of recreating Indians as they were before, rather than at the time he was photographing, and dressing them up in costumes. And some of the costumes are different people’s costumes, one person would get photographed in several different nations’. And these people don’t have nations, they don’t have names, they don’t have clothing, they have names, but the names are kind of funny names and so forth. I just am too involved with contemporary Native artists to get much of a kick out of it.

Greg: What do you make of that Marisol being so resistant to the idea of feminism?

Lucy: I mean, that’s one reason I don’t know much about her work is because I’ve been deeply embroiled in feminism for 30 years. And, and since she wasn’t supportive or interested in it, it didn’t really interest me, what she was doing. And that is to say, I just didn’t pay much attention to her work. I mean, she wasn’t involved with me at all. She wasn’t involved in any of the things I was, and there was a lot of art that really interested me. So I didn’t spend a lot of time on things that didn’t interest me.

Greg: And do you think that she could have been more involved in the feminist movement?

Lucy: No, probably not. It’s not the kind of person she was. I mean, at that time, we really hoped, all of us who were feminists, that successful artists would support younger women artists. Yes. Wonderful. But she wasn’t because she says that she wants to think of herself as an artist, not as a woman artist, or a man; a  lot of feminist artists say that, too, but they still support women’s work and think about themselves as women. I mean, it’s one thing to say, you know, I don’t want to be a woman artist, but clearly you are a woman and women’s experiences in the society completely differ from those of men. So it’s weird to say you’re an artist. Women artists face a different set of experiences growing up, and are treated in the art world totally differently. And why do you think they’re always talking about what parties she went to?

Greg: Right? She surprises me in that she doesn’t like to think about gender, when so much of her work is deeply autobiographical, and is about women and their lives.

Lucy: Well, it’s not really about their lives, is it? It’s nice to see Emily Roebling, powerful with her rooster. I mean, I like several of the pieces, and if I were foremost a writer and didn’t give a damn about social context, I would just look at it that way. But I do what I’ve done for most of my life, and I care about the social context.

Greg: You know, in 1973 you were talking about a female sensibility that would be present in perhaps most women’s work. Do you see any of that in Marisol’s work?

Lucy: There was a huge amount of what we were looking at as female sensibility in the early ‘70s, mostly coming from younger artists or artists who were feminists who were literally exploring that part of themselves, which Marisol wasn’t, because she didn’t want to ever be particularly female. And she obviously had nothing to do with that. I mean, I don’t know Marisol personally at all. So, I think I knew where to say hello to the parties or something. But I don’t know that much about it. There’s a whole hidden part of it. But it’s not something that I would see myself logging on to.

Greg: You don’t consider these works to be political?

Lucy: No, they have political subject matter of pop culture. Now, what would make them make that that’s what I’m talking about tonight. I really hate repeating myself. 

Greg: And you wrote in the 1960s that her work has very little to do with pop art. Were there other movements of the time that you associated her more with?

Lucy: I don’t think so. I think that’s admirable. She’s really kind of a loner. I mean, she’s done what she wants to do. I mean, she obviously comes from folk art, which I’m sure she wouldn’t necessarily even like that idea, but she does. It’s clear. And the pre-Columbian stuff, to some extent.

Greg: How would Marisol have been fit into that scene in the 1960s?

Lucy: It’s hard for me to say.  She was beautiful. She was a loner. She was good artist, very aristocratic. You know, she, she wasn’t a political person. There was a scene that was very apolitical. That part of it and very pop culture, party and, you know, social. When I say social context, I don’t mean that. And then there was that point where she was getting attention every single month. There were fashion magazines talking about her. She’s stunning looking. She was well dressed and she was the famous artist. I mean, the ‘60s was the time—the early ‘60s, not the late-’60s—when art really became fashionable. Before that artists were high culture, then they were struggling along whatever way they could, and then suddenly, you know, people became interested in art, and artists got rich for the first time and moved into that kind of circle. So you don’t think that’s political? I don’t think these people thought much of being political in one way, but being apolitical is a political statement, because you’re saying you don’t give a shit.

Greg: And then suddenly, once she came out with her new set of works in the early ‘70s, there was almost nothing written about her. It was almost blasted by critics. I mean, would you have any ideas as to why the sudden like lack of interest?

Lucy: The art world is very fickle, and she’d gotten a huge amount of interest, her work wasn’t changing drastically, she didn’t fit into what was happening in the 70s. And so she probably just got left behind for a while.

Greg: Right, she didn’t fit in, she obviously didn’t fit in with feminist art movements. And then at the same time, she felt alienated by the sort of decline of all the ‘60s art.

Lucy: ‘60s art didn’t decline. If you notice, all the guys did fine. She was the only woman she and Marjorie Strider to some extent, seen in that context, dragging people into the pop art context. She was never really a pop artist. I mean, I don’t know why she was included in pop art stuff when it was just who she hung out with more than anything else. It’s just good sculpture. Again, it’s very illogical, those kinds of things, who you know, what dealers, who they’re hoping to get whisked along in a certain movement, you know, people can be doing almost the same kind of thing. And one person will be taken up, clipped into the art world center of the center, and the other person will be left out. Besides, there’s no real explaining it, it’s not often much to do with quality. It’s to do with who was in the right place at the right time. And where the right dealer who had a dealer and worked for them. I can’t remember who her dealer was, who was it?

Greg: Sidney Janis, Leo Castelli, and now Marlborough. 

Lucy: She had three of the best dealers. So I don’t know why they couldn’t keep her in it. 35 years later, I do have the same sorts of feelings about it.

Greg: Pretty much the same feeling as you expressed in the pop article?

Lucy: I haven’t looked at that book for 35 years. So I don’t really know. What did I say?

Greg: You said that she puts plaster casts onto her fingers, justifiably reflecting her own beautiful face.

Lucy: Yeah, she was doing that. That wasn’t much of a very interesting thing to say. I would never have been that interested in her work. So I’m obviously trying to figure out what I was talking about there. And that’s an admirable thing about her. She’s done her own thing. And she certainly has had the help of the very best people in the world to help her along doing it. And frankly, if she’d had it bad, we wouldn’t even know about her. A whole lot of women are showing.I barely know about her.

Greg: It was by chance that I came across her.

Lucy: And you really fell for it.

Greg: Oh, yeah, instantly. You can’t walk into MoMA and buy a Marisol book, whereas you can buy ten different Warhol books anywhere you go. Why?

Lucy: Well, for one thing, she’s a woman. You really have to look at it because once you start looking at what’s written or you will find a kind of condescending aspect to it that if she’d been a man…there’s a man named Bill King. You know his work?

Greg:  Yeah, it didn’t look anything like her work but he was really influential on her.

Lucy:  He just came to mind because I thought they had a lot in common, but he was a teacher. Did she study under him?

Greg: I don’t think she studied under him, though she was very into his work.

Lucy: You won’t find books on him either. I mean, it was an unfashionable thing to be doing.

Greg: Do you think her gender also is the reason why so much attention was paid to her clothes?

Lucy: Yeah, I mean, you don’t see that about a man.

Greg: And that Warhol is seen as a master?

Lucy:. Yeah, exactly. And he did have a very different take. I mean, he was doing something new. She wasn’t really doing something new. He was transforming the culture in a way that I don’t think was particularly wonderful. But he did change the way an awful lot of people saw things and that’s what artists do. They change how you see things. And I think this is good work, but I don’t think it changes how you see things. You don’t think that the fusion of all of those different elements is something new.

I must have seen thirty shows a week for thirty years: nothing’s new. And, what he did could have just gone over, too, but what he did in the visual stuff was really the ambience he created around it, and the intellectual thing that he created around him became something that was interesting.

Greg: So do you think that Marisol was, as some people have put it, a sphinx without a riddle? Do you think she’s essentially empty underneath all the mystique?

Lucy: Empty? It’s personal. I don’t think it necessarily moves people. Are you deeply moved by it?

Greg: I am.

Lucy: By the visual part of it, or the content?

Greg: Yeah, and the subject matter makes it more interesting.

Lucy: I think she had a subject matter. I’m not sure what her content is.

Greg: And, if she knew what she was trying to say, I don’t think she would say

Lucy: That’s what writers do for artists, or to artists.

Greg: Do you think her silence has caused people to take her less seriously as an artist, and attach their own meanings?

Lucy: It’s always worked for artists to be silent. A lot of the time, I mean, not in certain contexts. Andy was silent. Every now and then he’d say something stupid and everybody would make something of it.