Whether making drawings, paintings or conceptual projects 'boycotting' women and dropping out from the art world, Lee Lozano wanted to 'participate only in a total revolution simultaneously personal and public'
She was born ‘NOV. 5, 1930, 4:25 PM, NEWARK, N. J.,’ and considered the citation – an alphanumeric confluence marking time and space, inflected with scientific as well as astrological specificity – her ‘ONLY TRUE NAME’. As she noted in a fascinating skeletal autobiographical text penned in 1970 on a sheet of graph paper, any further alterations were considered a ‘CHANGE OF NAME’, whether the given nomenclature, Lenore Knaster, of her parents three days after her birth or that of her own choice or situation. A Scorpio, she marked her second change of name, to Lee Knaster, in December 1944, the year that she self-actualized a ‘REJECTION OF TRADITIONAL AMERICAN MIDDLE-CLASS TRIP’. The artist’s trip went elsewhere.
While the autobiography, written almost in the third-person, biographically, begins by noting her name-changes, continues by listing her academic degrees (B.A. from the University of Chicago, 1948–51; B.F.A. from The Art Institute of Chicago, 1956–60), and ends by listing her gallery representation (a late language piece, from 1998, pokes fun at the idea of someone asking her to list all her collectors – [or ‘PURCHASES & PURCHASERS’ as she puts it] – which she proceeds to do by class, occupation, gender, sexuality and purpose), the information presented between these lists, with few crossings-out, starkly pares away any fat:
‘TRAVEL IN EUROPE, 1960–61
SEX, 1931– CONTINUING
Presented in the same hand and in block capitals, at the same moment, and in the same manner as other language pieces, many of which also have a starting date and proceed into the future, ‘CONTINUING’, it’s not clear that the autobiography is not a piece itself. She investigated the atomic boundaries of life and art, although, like Marie Curie’s experiments with radioactivity, not without psychic and/or mortal consequence.
Her marriage to Adrian Lozano, a Mexican-born architect, provided her third change of name (‘AUG, 1956’), to Lee Lozano, but although she was divorced after four years, a period that ‘apparently included the couple’s ritual of dressing identically’,1 it was not her last change. Carl Andre has noted how she wanted, at some point, only ‘to be known as “E”, the other letters having fallen over the years as reluctantly as an oak’s leaves over the winter’.2 But the name-change may not have been so reluctant, hibernal or random. Jane Necol, one of the editors of Andre’s statement (published in conjunction with a show she co-organized with Donald Droll in 1983 at PS1 in New York, ‘Abstract Painting 1960–69’, which included Lozano’s paintings and, in addition, garnered one of her last published statements about her work), has written that when she and her colleague Maurice Poirier conducted the interview with Lozano by telephone, Poirier manned the phone while Necol listened:
‘At the beginning of the interview, she [Lozano] also talked about her name change and tenuous connection with, as she put it, the individual who made the paintings, among other topics related to her broader definition of art, saying in part “Art is a lot more interesting than just canvases and sculptures, drawings and prints, and things like that”.’3
Since Necol and Droll’s show concerned abstract painting, certain other matters were edited out of the text. Again Necol writes:
‘We edited out some introductory comments regarding her name change/s, a comment about her desire to “have an existence that was like art”. There is more, but not related to her text works but more about her feelings. She called herself ‘E’, a reference to energy, for example. ‘The new art since I have a new name is involving energy.’4
Not existence as art, but a desire to have an existence like art.
It could be argued that her endeavours had always involved energy. As her autobiography stated, sexual energy was relevant from 1931 on, when she would have been a year old. Her early paintings pack their punch with tools; her bold drawings, often in crayon – the artist called them ‘comix’ – emphasized the rowdy, sexual potential of hardcore hardware, often in bold textual components: ‘he gave her a good screwing he said’ over a colourful graphic of a hand sawing timber, the action braced by a foot in a man’s dress shoe. Even within the boring she saw potential for drilling energy: a work on paper in graphite and conté crayon depicts a pistol-like electric drill, one part of its casing removed to reveal all its mechanisms, the heart of its motor. She called it A Boring Drawing (1963). In 1967 the artist made a list of her titles of paintings, ‘1964–67 (MAY)’, stressing that they were – as she underlined her block capitals at the page top – ‘ALL VERBS: REAM, SPIN, VEER, SPAN, CROSS, RAM, PEEL, CHARGE, PITCH, VERGE, SWITCH, SHOOT, SLIDE, JUT, HACK, BREACH, STROKE, STOP’.5 Her list is in advance of Richard Serra’s ‘Verb List Compilation: Actions to Relate to Oneself’ from 1967–8. Serra was under the influence of Lozano, as her Dialogue Piece clarifies, in every manner. On 7 May 1969:
‘serra comes over a little high on beer & no food. just into a dialogue with him (we’ve been smoking saret’s hash) when he gets an attack (too stoned), falls off chair to floor with a crash, has “convulsions” & passes out. later he feels sick, lies down on bed until saret comes over.’6
The ‘ALL VERBS’ force of her paintings’ titles plugs into the electrical socket of her language work, as the artist emphasized in the title line of one of her most famous projects: ‘DIALOGUE PIECE (STARTED APRIL 21, 69) OR VERBALL’. In one of the first reviews published about Lozano’s work Diane Waldman observed that paint on her sectioned canvases had a ‘quality sweeping through and around curves into sudden sharp breaks’, concluding that ‘[t]hus the momentum increases by both visual and physical adjustments in a concentration of energy’.7 Lozano said that for painting the ‘biggest line of all is always that transition between the second and third dimension’.8 Her last series of paintings was inspired by physics and electro-magnetic waves.
Imagine ‘E’ in 1983. She is telephoned to be interviewed about paintings she said she hadn’t seen since they were shown at the Whitney in 1970. It has been over a decade since she left New York and moved to Texas, where she lived many years with her parents. To the best of anyone’s knowledge she has been pursuing at least two continuing projects for almost 15 years. One is General Strike Piece. ‘STARTED FEB. 8, ’69,’ on the occasion of her ‘WITHDRAWAL FROM 3-MAN SHOW COMPILED BY RICHARD BELLAMY, GOLDOWSKY GALLERY, 1078 MADISON AVE.’, when the artist decided to ‘GRADUALLY BUT DETERMINEDLY AVOID BEING PRESENT AT OFFICIAL OR PUBLIC “UPTOWN” FUNCTIONS OR GATHERINGS RELATED TO THE “ARTWORLD” IN ORDER TO PURSUE INVESTIGATION OF TOTAL PERSONAL & PUBLIC REVOLUTION. EXHIBIT IN PUBLIC ONLY PIECES WHICH FURTHER SHARING OF IDEAS & INFORMATION RELATED TO TOTAL PERSONAL & PUBLIC REVOLUTION.’ The other is her infamous boycott. During the ‘1ST WK AUGUST, 71’ she comes to DECIDE TO BOYCOTT WOMEN. […] THROW LUCY LIPPARD’S 2ND LETTER ON DEFUNCT PILE, UNANSWERED. […] DO NOT GREET ROCHELLE BASS IN STORE.’ In the second week of August 1971 the artist writes: ‘PAULA TAVINS CALLS AUG. 11. TELL HER I AM BOYCOTTING WOMEN AS AN EXPERIMENT THRU ABT SEPT & THAT AFTER THAT ‘COMMUNICATION’ WILL BE BETTER THAN EVER.’ In no way does this appear to have been an unconsidered or easy decision. On the same sheet of tissue paper the artist remarks, during the second week of her boycott, on 12 August 1971:
‘I’M FUCKING UP BAD, MAKIN MISTAKES. ONE HOUR LATE TO MEET BALLAMY HERE, I MISSED HIM (HE LEAVES NOTE) IT’S MY DEEPBRAIN RESISTANCE TO … WHAT? BELLAMY? KELSEY? DO I WANT TO LOSE MY LOFT FOR ACTION? UTTER CLAUSTROPHOBIA IN TIME/SPACE PRESENT. I MISSED HIM ALL LAST WEEK TOO … ALSO FUCKED UP WITH BUSINESS COMPATIBILITY BOOK.’
Strangely, for an artist so attuned to the waves and frequencies of language, no one seems to have commented on her energizing the ‘boy’ within ‘boycott’, as if, through some apotropaic orthographic power, boys cannot, in the art world, be boycotted, and so, paradoxically, the force of her boycott is channelled to their stand-ins. Given that her boycott begins when she is about to lose her studio loft (she applied to the Mark Rothko Foundation in April 1971 for assistance because of the ‘embarrassing urgency of an immanent dispossession of my loft for four months’ non-payment of rent, a utilities cut-off on May 3, 71, & my inability to raise funds from any other source’9), some attention should be paid to not only the orthography but also the etymology of the word: ‘boycott’, according to Webster’s, is derived from ‘Charles C. Boycott ‡1897 Eng. land agent in Ireland who was ostracized for refusing to reduce rents’. Her landlord problems get displaced into a gender dispute, complicated by questions and conflicts of (national, personal) identity. Lozano operated in artistic circles in which select women – Virginia Dwan, Paula Cooper, Lucy Lippard – did have what could be construed as power and/or control. In some paradoxical scrambling she booked them for business incompatibility.
Lozano had a prominent place in Lippard’s Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 (1973); certainly her boycott had something to do with her complete absence, three years later, from Lippard’s encompassing From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art. Retrospectively, I sense some dismay in Lippard’s still cogent précis of Lozano’s project in Six Years:
‘Lozano’s ‘conceptual’ work, conceived simultaneously with the end of a large series of paintings on wave phenomena, combine art and life to an extreme extent. Unlike most ‘instruction’ or ‘command’ pieces, for example, Lozano’s are directed to herself, and she has carried them out scrupulously, no matter how difficult to sustain they may be. Her art, it has been said, becomes the means by which to transform her life, and, by implication, the lives of others and of the planet itself.’10
Few were ready to see Lozano’s boycott as a decision with feminist consequences. Necol wrote that she was ‘personally flummoxed by [Lozano’s] rejection of/refusal to talk to/women’.11 The first sentence of the review of Lozano’s compact, one-person show of the ‘Wave’ series in 1971 reads: ‘A group of eleven paintings by LEE LOZANO in the small, main-floor gallery of the Whitney Museum is disturbing.’12 But why shouldn’t art disturb, especially if its project is a nuclear experiment with art and life? At the end of the review Kasha Linville concludes by mentioning a ‘small group of plastic boxes in the show containing body hair, nail clippings and birthstones’. Sheddings of the body synchronized with Lozano’s strike or boycott suggest that the fetish was not merely ‘woman’ but, perhaps, personhood, identity itself, as something to be sloughed off to become pure energy, pure ‘E’.
Some of the most provocative thinking on Lozano’s rejection or refusal has been done by art historian and critic Helen Molesworth, by showing a continuity between Lozano’s general strike of the art world and her boycott of women:
‘I think part of what is shocking about Lozano’s withdrawal is the rigour with which she rejected two intimately connected systems: patriarchy and capitalism. By refusing to speak to women she exposed the systemic and ruthless division of the world into the categories of men and women. By refusing to speak to women she acknowledged the impossibility of a life lived outside the societal confines and projections of gender. By refusing to speak to women as an artwork she also refused the demand of capitalism for the constant production of private property. That she elided the fetishized art object and women was perhaps no mistake, as both share a similar fate.’13
Lozano’s 1969 Dialogue Piece notes her engagement with most of the major players of New York art world of her time, but it’s not as though the piece doesn’t also suggest other potential dialogues, through omission. It might be useful to keep in mind another writer and contemporary instigator of radical, disturbing gestures, Valerie Solanas, who spoke for those ‘females […] unhampered by propriety, niceness, discretion, public opinion, “morals”, the respect of assholes, always funky, dirty, low-down’, those who ‘want to crawl out from under the dock, move, take off, sink out’.14
While most writers about Lozano seem assured, from what evidence there is, that she continued her boycott, none has wondered if ‘women’ includes mothers. One of the early participants in Lozano’s Dialogue Piece is the artist’s mother. On 18 May 1969 she notes: ‘CALL MY MOTHER, WHO IS ILL. SHE IS HAVING FIRST DRUG EXPERIENCE & I INVITE HER TO HAVE DIALOGUE BY LONG-DIST PHONE.’ She would move to Texas to live with her parents in a little over two years. Lozano: ‘ALL WOMEN ARE NOT YOUR MUTHA.’15
The artist expanded her thinking about personal revolution, the intensity of a general strike and her boycott by exploring those actions in conjunction with drugs and sex. In her Masturbation Investigation, ‘APRIL 3–5, 69’, she notes: ‘OTHER PIECES SIMULTANEOUSLY IN PROGRESS: GRASS PIECE, GENERAL STRIKE PIECE, & A WITHDRAWAL FROM HUMANS & THE OUTSIDE WORLD. I REFUSE TO SEE MY PARTNER OR ANYONE ELSE.’ She spends the three days in April masturbating: day one to fantasies – ‘BALLING SPECIFIC HUMANS, THEN IMAGINARY HUMANS’ and to pictures from Screw magazine; day two with various objects – ‘HARD RUBBER MOTORCYCLE PEDAL, FEATHER, CARROT, PHALLIC-SHAPED LIGHTBULB’. Finally, on day three, 5 April 1969:
‘masturbation looking into small mirror reflecting genital: observe tumescence, turgidity, color change from light red to bright red, violent ejaculation of lubrication from duct near clitoris, & vibration during orgasm.
satisfaction of interest in investigating masturbation.’
She copied a text version of the piece to Michael Heizer, since he had asked for ‘info’ and/or ‘details’ about it.
Until there is a thorough critical biography and a much-needed publication of her journals and a catalogue raisonné of her text pieces, much of what is known about her life is in the realm of ‘info-fiction’. Lozano used the word in the titles for both her final self-organized shows (in 1971 at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, and the following year at the Lisson Gallery, London), seemingly her ‘critical and personal take on “Information”, the major exhibition of conceptual and process art curated by Kynaston McShine’ at MoMA in New York.16 The artist stated: ‘Information is content. Content is fiction.’17 So may be the self, the thing she’d experiment on for the rest of her life.
What a paltry vocabulary there is for understanding the self or sexuality, or how art might operate or be. Lozano, supposedly, ‘dropped out’ – or, as Solanas suggested, took off and sunk out. With Dropout Piece – what gets too comfortably deemed her ‘rejection’ or ‘refusal’ of the art world – ‘E’ began her greatest experiment, a dissolve into what could be called the ordinary, but with scare quotes around it, away from the so-called art world, the ‘ordinary’, daily living, as an art piece known only to the artist, perhaps her parents, and/or yet-to-be revealed others. From her ‘private notebooks’, April 1970: ‘I have decided what I don’t want and am moving away from it, towards (o joy!) the unknown (thrill of all thrills).’ She commented in the same month: ‘It was inevitable, since I work in sets of course, that I do the Dropout Piece (note pun) […]Dropout Piece is the hardest work I have ever done’.18
And yet who is to deny that the pieces which stated they were ‘CONTINUING’ didn’t continue? Why shouldn’t artist and art be allowed to experiment with the boundaries of existence, of being? Why is there such a static limit placed on what a proper mode of artistic production, not to mention reception, is?
One of her the most challenging notes, ‘SEPT 8, 71’, contemporaneous with her ‘info-fiction’ shows, states: ‘I HAVE NO IDENTITY. […] I HAVE AN APPROXIMATE MATHEMATICAL IDENTITY (BIRTHCHART.) […] I HAVE SEVERAL NAMES.’ It concludes: ‘I WILL NOT SEEK FAME, PUBLICITY OR SUCKCESS. […] IDENTITY CHANGES CONTINUOUSLY AS MULTIPLIED BY TIME. (IDENTITY IS A VECTOR).’ Many of Lozano’s contemporaries, most of them male, are celebrated for taking art into a romanticized sublime, in search of the miraculous, often through the paranormal and/or drug use; when women pursue similar concerns, their work is often reduced to a toothless, Mother-Earth magick. Lozano reminded anyone who only wished to smile that the sublime annihilates, that nature can be a mutha, that drugs open the self to the possibility of a permanent freak-out. ‘Art is a lot more interesting than just canvases and sculptures, drawings and prints, and things like that.’ In her famous statement for the Open Public Hearing, Art Workers Coalition, she stated that she’d call herself not an ‘ART WORKER’ but an ‘ART DREAMER’ and ‘PARTICIPATE ONLY IN A TOTAL REVOLUTION BOTH PERSONAL AND PUBLIC.’ But one who dreams knows of nightmares. A Scorpio knows of venom and stings. But she also channeled the ecstatic, wishing to take us out of ourselves: ‘I wanted the art to make people high’.19 Not misogynist or misanthropic, not even transhuman, but sheer trans, beyond dematerialization, she released hits of antimatter, ‘deepbrain resistance’.
‘E’ died on October 2, 1999, of cervical cancer. When I entered ‘NOV. 5, 1930, 4:25 PM, NEWARK, N.J.’ into a free on-line astrological chart service, it provided the following reading for ‘The Inner You: Your Real Motivation’: ‘Quiet, deep, emotionally complex and intensely private, you are not a person who is easy to get to know and understand. […] Your feelings and perceptions go deeper than words.’
Note: This essay could not have been written without the assistance and expertise of Bob Nickas and art historian Jane Necol. All of Necol’s statements are taken, with her permission, from email correspondence with the author, 9 August 2006. I thank Necol for her generosity. Any infelicities of interpretation or transmission are my own.
1 Adam Szymczyk, ed. Lee Lozano: Win First Don’t Last / Win Last Don’t Care (Kunsthalle Basel & Van Abbemuseum, 2006), p. 13. Unless otherwise noted all quotation from Lozano texts, as well as texts by others, are from this catalogue.
2 Ibid., p.83
3 Jane Necol, email correspondence with the author, 9 August 2006
5 Basel, p. 71
6 Ibid., p. 151
7 Diane Waldman, ‘Lee Lozano’, Art News, December 1966, p. 13
8 Basel, p. 93
9 Ibid., p. 195
10 Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 (New York: Praeger, 1973), p. 98
11 op. cit. Necol
12 Kasha Linville, ‘Lee Lozano’, Artforum (February 1971): pp. 81-82
13 Helen Molesworth, ‘Tune in, Turn On, Drop Out: The Rejection of Lee Lozano’. Basel, p. 135
14 Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto (London: Verso, 2004 [originally published, 1968]), p. 61
15 Basel, p. 171
16 Ibid., p. 144
18 Ibid., pp. 17–18
19 ‘The ’60s in Abstract: 13 Statements and an Essay’. Interviews by Maurice Poirier and Jane Necol, Art in America, October 1983, p, 135
Bruce Hainley is Associate director of Graduate Studies in Criticism & Theory at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena. His new book is Foul Mouth (2nd Cannons Publications, 2006).
frieze is now accepting letters to the editors for possible publication at firstname.lastname@example.org.