Lee Lozano (1930–1999) is one of the still lesser known and fascinating artists of the New York art scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Her work has been drawing considerable attention in recent years ( “Lee Lozano: Drawn from Life” at P.S. 1, 2004).
Having studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, Lozano went to New York in the early 1960s. She began her art career with figurative paintings and cartoon-like drawings in which she rendered various tools as sexualised hybrids, including the obscene and witty texts in some of the works. In the “Tool Paintings” Lozano connected the functional features of the tools with allusions to sexual exploitation, voyeurism, polymorphic sexuality, religion and violence. In her paintings of the mid-1960s Lozano engaged intensely with abstract forms, which she consistently developed out of the tool motifs. Her manipulation of the paint on the picture plane produced shimmering light effects and often imbued the minimalist compositions with an illusionist quality. These works finally lead to the large format Wave Series-paintings on which she worked between 1969 and 1970. These 11 paintings were each produced in a single conceptually planned performative act of painting. The number and formation of the waves on the picture surface adhered to mathematical formulae, which the artist herself developed. Lozano also designed a specific exhibition situation for her Wave Series: propped up against the wall in a black room, they were to be lit in such a way that their colour and materiality would be perceived in a particular way by the viewer.
Lee Lozano accompanied and documented her paintings with sketches and diary entries and made notes of her ideas. These notes contain the point of departure for the later Language Pieces which she produced in the late 1960s. In these language works, her biography and work, life and art can no longer be separated. They included instructions for the artist herself – how much hashish she should smoke a day (as much as possible) or what to do with printed announcements she received from galleries (let them pile up in the studio or throw them out the window) – and were also partly documentations of an intimate self-analysis. Other conceptual works were the records she kept on the long-term project Dialogue Piece. Lozano invited guests, including artist-friends Robert Morris, Dan Graham and Robert Smithson, to her studio for a discussion on some unspecified topic – the dialogue itself was to become the artwork. In a statement made in 1969 in connection with her participation in a hearing of the Art Workers Coalition in New York Lozano formulated, “I will not call myself an art worker but an art dreamer and I will participate only in a total revolution simultaneously personal and public.” Lozano thus expressed a political expectation towards art: it should not just be on show in museums, galleries or magazines, but should serve above all as a free vehicle for exchange of ideas. Language pieces like Throwing Up Piece, 1969 in which Lozano gives the instruction to throw 12 of the most recent issues of the art magazine Artforum up in the air in her studio, document the artist’s sense of disillusion with the increasingly commercialised art world in the late 1960s. Lozano began slowly to retreat from the New York art scene in 1970, methodically breaking off all contacts with galleries, critics and other artists. Finally, she decided never to speak to women again – a radical statement which constituted a critique both of the art and the social system, in which women artists were not receiving recognition and to which the women liberation movement at that time could propose no viable alternative. In 1971, Lozano moved to Dallas, Texas, where she died in 1999 without ever having returned to New York.
The Kunsthalle Basel will show the first ever comprehensive solo exhibition by Lee Lozano in Europe. In addition to the less known figurative and abstract paintings and drawings from the early 1960s, the conceptual language pieces as well as her complete Wave Series from the collection of Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, will be on view.
Online review by Helen Molesworth at ArtForum
“Lee Lozano: WIN FIRST DONT LAST/WIN LAST DONT CARE” is produced in collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. The exhibition will travel to Van Abbemuseum in October 2006 (for further information, click: http://www.vanabbemuseum.nl.
An extensive catalogue has been published by Schwabe Verlag, Basel.
We would like to extend our sincere thanks for supporting the exhibition and the book to: