Please join MCAD Vice President of Academic Affairs Robert Ransick as he sits down with artist and cultural critic Lorraine O'Grady to talk about her first retrospective, Both/And, which opens at the Brooklyn Museum on March 5th, 2021, and the recent publication of her collected writings Writing in Space 1973-2019 (Duke University Press).
In addition, this year marks the 30th anniversary of O’Grady’s powerful exhibition of photomontages at New York's Intar Gallery which was created in collaboration with Ransick. The two met in 1989 when Ransick was an undergraduate at the School of Visual Arts and was enrolled in two of O’Grady’s courses, Poetry and Art and Surrealist Literature. In spring of 1990, O’Grady asked Ransick, who was a photography major at the time, to work with her on creating an exhibition of photomontages. Their collaboration and friendship spans three decades and continues to this day. Ransick is the executor and trustee of O’Grady’s estate.
Lorraine O’Grady is a conceptual artist and cultural critic whose work over four decades has employed the diptych, or at least the diptych idea, as its primary form. While she has consistently addressed issues of diaspora, hybridity and black female subjectivity and has emphasized the formative roles these have played in the history of modernism, O’Grady also uses the diptych’s “both/and thinking” to frame her themes as symptoms of a larger problematic, that of the divisive and hierarchical either/or categories underpinning Western philosophy. In O’Grady’s works across various genres including text, photo-installation, video and performance, multiple emotions and ideas coexist. Personal and aesthetic attitudes often considered contradictory, such as anger and joy or classicism and surrealism, are not distinguished. Even technical means seem governed by both chance and obsessive control so as to express political argument and unapologetic beauty simultaneously. And across the whole, essays and images interpenetrate. While O’Grady’s diptychs are sometimes explicit, with two images side by side, at other times they are implicit, as when two types of hair—silk and tumbleweed, videotaped on the same scalp at different hours of the same day—alternate and interact to create permeating worlds. The goal of her diptychs is not to bring about a mythic “reconciliation of opposites,” but rather to enable or even force a conversation between dissimilars long enough to induce familiarity. For O’Grady, the diptych helps to image the kind of “both/and” or “miscegenated” thinking that may be needed to counter and destabilize the West’s either/or binary of “winners or losers,” one that is continuously birthing supremacies, from the intimate to the political, of which white supremacy may be only the most all-inclusive.
An early adopter of digital technology, O’Grady has also created a website, lorraineogrady.com, which is considered a model of the online abbreviated-archive, and her paper archive is in the collection of the Wellesley College Library. Among O’Grady’s writings, the 1992/94 long-form essay “Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity” has proved an enduring contribution to the fields of art history and intersectional feminism and is now considered canonical. O’Grady’s art works have been acquired by, among other institutions, the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; Tate Modern, London, UK; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.
For more information, see these articles from the New York Times: Lorraine O'Grady, Still Cutting Into the Culture and Both Sides Now: In Conversation With Lorraine O'Grady.
Header image info:
The Strange Taxi: From Africa to Jamaica to Boston in 200 Years, 1991/2019 by Lorraine O'Grady
Archival pigment print on Hahnemühle Baryta pure cotton photo rag paper
50 x 40 in (127 x 101.6 cm)
Edition of 10 plus 3 artist's proofs
Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York
© Lorraine O’Grady/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York