The Artsy Vanguard 2019: Lorraine O’Grady

Artsy Editorial
Sep 16, 2019 6:35PM

Lorraine O’Grady by Ross Collab. Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, New York.

Lorraine O’Grady, Rivers, First Draft: The Debauchees ignore the Woman in Red, 1982/2015. Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, New York. © Lorraine O’Grady/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


Lorraine O’Grady’s fearless determination to make the mainstream art world more accessible to black individuals can be witnessed in two particular works: Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (1980–83/2009), a guerilla performance of the artist dressed as “Miss Black Middle Class” while shouting protest poems at art happenings; and Art Is…(1983), a participatory performance during the African-American Day Parade in Harlem. In the latter piece, volunteers held up empty picture frames for the people of color watching the parade to consider themselves as art. O’Grady is best known for her performance, film, and photography exploring diaspora, hybridity, and black female subjectivity.

After working as an art critic and academic for decades, O’Grady only began exhibiting her own art at the age of 45. With more exposure, interest in O’Grady’s work has increased. In 2017, she was featured in the Brooklyn Museum’s group show “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85,” and the following year, her work was included in the critically acclaimed international survey “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963–1983.” Last year, she had four solo shows, including with her gallery, Alexander Gray Associates, as well as institutional exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art.

Tate Modern’s Zoe Whitley, a curator of “Soul of a Nation,” said that O’Grady “gives voice and makes space for unapologetic and uncompromising expressions contained in her brilliant oeuvre.” Whitley added that O’Grady “inspires contemporary artists to push their chosen media further because of her influence.”

Artsy Editorial