The Goodman Gallery

Lorraine O'Grady & Tracey Rose

14 May - 18 Jun 2011

© Lorraine O'Grady & Tracey Rose
San Pedro, 2002
Lambda Photograph
117,5 x 119 cm
Rose O'Grady
14 May - 18 June, 2011

Text by Adrienne Edwards

The significance of Lorraine O’Grady and Tracey Rose’s new show, an exhibit at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg of curated selections of their works from different periods in their careers, cannot be overstated. Titled Rose O’Grady, the show is a gift to artists, to South Africa, to the world. It is the first time that Lorraine O’Grady will exhibit in Africa. It is the first time that there will be an intergenerational and international dialogue between two important black female conceptual artists with performance-based practices. It is the first time that Rose’s dynamic work, presented on her home turf following her important retrospective at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, will be contextualised with that of an especially inspirational American pioneer.

What makes this truly unique is that O’Grady and Rose have multi-disciplinary practices, including video, photography, text, and installation, with performance at the core. The confluence of identity issues and contemporary life concerns are what have made performance as an artistic practice immensely relevant for them as they explore the binary complexity of their identity and address new agendas, completely unrestrained by tradition and convention. They both possess a profoundly deep understanding of and research in literature and art history, including Renaissance old masters, modernism, conceptual and performance art, and especially feminist art of the 1960s-1970s. Their work exists at the nexus of postmodern art movements, political discourse, sociological investigation, and historical narrative. O’Grady and Rose’s conceptual frameworks – which are deeply process driven, it typically taking years to develop a concept for a work – are centered on the development of characters and personas. These personas give physical form to their ideas as they create a variety of individuals or metaphorical beings: some are personal, some stereotypical, others historical. The personas serve to embody, transform, and use these women’s life experiences in order not to be held back, rendered powerless by them. Their aim is also to catalyse society, to clear the mental and moral barriers, allowing art to lurk in the midst of things, allowing the message to hang in the air, allowing it to permeate our collective conscious.

While the work spans over 30 years, one of the most striking aspects of this special collaboration, despite differences in age and geography, is the evolutionary pattern, a continuum that exists between these two artists. These bold, fearless, aggressive works are deeply and profoundly connected. O’Grady certainly had almost no references who shared a common life experience as her own when she began to make work. Rose and artists of her generation and those even younger, whether in South Africa or in the Caribbean or in the United States, absolutely do: there is O’Grady, Suzanne Cesaire, Ben Patterson, Adrian Piper, and David Hammons, among many others. What this show most importantly does is to convey that this brave work is not made in isolation and that it is overpoweringly relevant.

The exhibit presents the artists’ important early works, including performance stills from O’Grady’s Mlle Bourgeoisie Noire (1980-1983), and Rose’s Span I and Span II (1997) and Ciao Bella (2001). It also features photographs that reference and subvert public performance traditions or “parading” like the African American Day Parade in Harlem, New York City and the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. O’Grady and Rose will each show thrilling new work in the show.

So starting this May, the initial rumblings of what ultimately will be a seismic shift in the global contemporary art world, will emerge as a proposition – indeed, a new persona, a merging of minds, aesthetics, voices, and experiences. She is Rose O’Grady.

Lorraine O’Grady is an artist and critic whose installations, performances, and texts address issues of diaspora, hybridity, and black female subjectivity. The New York Times in 2006 called her “one of the most interesting American conceptual artists around”. And in 2007 her landmark performance, Mlle Bourgeoisie Noire, was made one of the entry points to WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, the first-ever museum exhibit of this major art movement. Born in Boston in 1934 to West Indian parents, O’Grady came to art late, not making her first works until 1980. After majoring in economics and literature, she’d had several careers: as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. government, a successful literary and commercial translator, even a rock critic. Ultimately, her broad background contributed to a distanced and critical view of the art world when she entered it and to an unusually eclectic attitude toward artmaking. In O’Grady’s work, the idea tends to come first, and then a medium is employed to best execute it. Although its intellectual content is rigorous and political, the work is generally marked by unapologetic beauty and elegance.

Tracey Rose was born in 1974 in Durban, and currently lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. She received her B.A. in Fine Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in 1996, and earned a Masters of Fine Arts from Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK, in 2007. In 2006, she was named one of the 50 greatest cultural figures coming out of Africa by The Independent newspaper in London. Rose has had solo presentations in South Africa, as well as in Europe and the Americas, has been featured in major international events such as the Venice Biennale in 2001 and her work has been included in seminal exhibitions such as Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography and Africa Remix. Tracey Rose: Waiting for God, the artist’s mid-career retrospective, was recently held at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The exhibition was co-produced with Bildmuseet, Umeå University, Sweden, where it will be presented in September 2011.

Adrienne Edwards works with Performa, the visual art performance biennial. She has a thriving intellectual practice focused on conceptual and performance art, and is pursuing a graduate degree at New York University in Performance Studies.

Tags: David Hammons, Lorraine O'Grady, Lorraine O'Grady, Ben Patterson, Adrian Piper, Tracey Rose