ADRIAN PIPER’S GOLDEN LION
By Naomi Barling
The Venice Biennale is a major contemporary art exhibition that takes place once every two years in Venice, Italy. In 2004, it officially changed its name to Biennale Foundation (www.labiennale.org). The Venice Biennale includes events surrounding, art, architecture, cinema, dance, music and theatre, and this years winners have just been announced. The Golden Lion have been handed out at the 56th Venice Biennale and American artist Adrian Piper has deserving won Best Artist this year.
Piper is an American artist living and working in Berlin. Her conceptual eye has been creating thought-provoking work for more than four decades on the subject of race, gender and belonging. Born in the Bronx New York in 1948, she is a first-generation conceptual artist and questioning philosopher. She was raised in Manhattan in an upper-middle-class black family, and attended a private school with mostly wealthy white students. This is perhaps where her interest in race and identity started. She studied art at the School of Visual Arts and graduated with an associate’s degree in 1969 before studying philosophy at the City College of New York and graduating with a bachelor’s in 1974. She also received her master’s from Harvard University in 1977 and her doctorate in 1981. Since 2005 she has lived and worked in Berlin, where she runs the APRA Foundation Berlin and edits The Berlin Journal of Philosophy.
Piper work is know for always addressing issues head on. “Dear Friend. I am black. I am sure you did not realize this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark.” Was the short typed message written on Adrian Piper’s My Calling cards (1986–1990). Whenever the artist found herself in the presence of racist behavior by someone not accepting of her mixed-race identity, she approached the perpetrator and silently handed over one of the calling cards. The performance was designed as a rational alternative to racial self-identification, which, Piper states elsewhere on the card, had caused people to perceive her as pushy, manipulative, or socially inappropriate.
In the late 60s and early 70’s Piper was influenced by Sol LeWitt and Yvonne Rainer. Piper has said that she was kicked out of the art world during this time for her race and gender. This was a turning point in her work as she started to address ostracism, otherness, and attitudes around racism. Piper has said that while she finds analysis of racism admirable, she wants her artwork to help people confront their own racist views head on.
In the 1970s, Piper began a series of controversial street performances under the collective name Catalysis. The performances included acts like the artist painting her clothes with white paint and wearing a sign that read “WET PAINT” before then going to Macy’s department store to shop for gloves and sunglasses; or stuffing a huge white towel into her mouth and riding the bus, subway and Empire State Building Elevator. She would also douse herself in a mixture of vinegar, eggs, milk, and cod liver oil and then spend a week moving around New York’s subway and bookstores. The performances were meant to be a catalyst that challenged what establishes social norms like dress, sanity and the distinction between public and private acts.
Piper’s Mythic Being series, started in 1973 and saw the artist dress in an afro wig and mustache to perform publicly as a ‘third world, working class, overly hostile male.’ She would walk the streets mumbling passages she had memorized from her journal. The artist was startling and weird and challenged passersby to categorize her through their own preconceptions about race, gender, and class.
In 2011 the American Philosophical Association awarded her the title of Professor Emeritus and In 2013 the Women’s Caucus for Art announced that Piper will be a 2014 recipient of the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Golden Lion was handed out at the 56th Venice Biennale yesterday, naming American artist Adrian Piper Best Artist at the fair.