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From the Archives: Lucy Lippard, the Walker, and Materializing “Six Years”

The Brooklyn Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Materializing “Six Years”:  Lucy Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, explores the impact of Lucy R. Lippard’s groundbreaking 1973 book Six Years and the development of the era’s highly influential conceptual art scene. In addition to works by 90 artists–including Vito Acconci, Eleanor Antin, and John Latham–the […]

Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s photo album of Maintenance Art Tasks (1973), next to an album containing N.E. Thing Co’s work North American Time Zone Photo-VSI-Simultaneity

The Brooklyn Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Materializing “Six Years”:  Lucy Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, explores the impact of Lucy R. Lippard’s groundbreaking 1973 book Six Years and the development of the era’s highly influential conceptual art scene. In addition to works by 90 artists–including Vito Acconci, Eleanor Antin, and John Latham–the show features catalogues, photos, artist publications, and ephemera from key Lippard events. Among the objects presented to help illustrate the period are photographs and notes from Lippard’s exhibition at the Walker, c. 7,500, a November 1973 show of conceptual works comprised entirely of women artists.

In early 1973, Lippard’s writing and interest in conceptual art was becoming well-known following a series of shows and essays, culminating with the release of Six Years, a compendium of Lippard’s writings that both catalogued and described the development of conceptual art, while introducing readers to the works of artists and collectives.

Beginning in 1969, Lippard’s conceptual art “numbers” shows were small affairs, curated solely by Lippard and accompanied by hand-made catalogues, composed of randomly arranged index cards designed by each artist and following brief descriptions from Lippard on how these works related and what conceptual art meant to her. Lippard’s seemingly vague exhibition titles were derived from the population of each show’s host city: 557,087 was held in Seattle, 955,000 in Vancouver, and 2,972,453 in Buenos Aires. Each edition varied in style, construction, and content, as Lippard noted in a letter to Walker director Martin Friedman when asked about her shows for planning purposes at the Walker.

c. 7,500–named for the small town of Valencia, California, where the show originated–was Lippard’s fourth numbered exhibition but her first foray into showcasing conceptual art created solely by female artists. A feminist herself, Lippard had been troubled by questions regarding women in conceptual art. According to the accompanying catalogue, “the show was organized in part as a reply to the comment ‘there are no women conceptual artists.'”

Lippard described some of the participating artists as “not known names,” but many conceptual art greats, including the N.E. Thing Co. Ltd, Eleanor Antin, and Athena Tacho, were involved. “[I]t should also be added that the artists in this show are of no ideological persuasion,” she wrote in the introduction to the exhibition catalogue. “Some are feminists, some are not. All are artists. Their ages, backgrounds, even nationalities range too broadly to succumb to generalization.” Fittingly, the array of featured work included a variety of pieces from Mierele Ukeles’ Maintenance Art Tasks, which depicts Ukeles fulfilling a variety of household tasks, to Martha Wilson’s photographs of various breast shapes and Poppy Johnson’s audio recordings of words.  c. 7,500’s works were unique but fit into the idea of art where “permanence, formal or decorative value, are secondary, if of any concern at all.”

The show was also rather different from her previous exhibitions by its small scale and casual organization. As she explained to Friedman, most of the work could easily be shown in “notebooks on a long table.” Consisting mainly of books, printed material, photographs, and audio recordings, the layout of the show was dependent on the space in each venue and could easily be changed to suit the available room, giving a more collaborative and laid-back feel to the show. Lippard described this as a far less “sculptural” show of her previous “Numbers” exhibitions. This casual aesthetic would eventually be a source of praise to the exhibition when held at the Walker.

Clockwise from left: Athena Tacha’s Feet and Shoes (1970-1972), Expressions I (A study in facial motions) (1972), Hands (two versions) (1970-1972) and Ears (1970-1971). Visible to the right in the corner is 100 Identical Drawings (1969) by Nancy Wilson Kitchel

The Walker’s involvement with Lippard’s c. 7,500 began with a letter from the curator in February of 1973 discussing the show idea with Friedman. Writing rather matter-of-factly, Lippard explained: “I have put together a small conceptual art show for Cal Arts. They’ve run out of money and I need three institutions to take the show to cover catalogue costs.”

Held in the lounge on the Walker’s top floor gallery, this space was what registrar Gwen Lerner described to Lippard as “conducive to a leisurely perusal of the show, including reading and listening.”  The show was a success, attracting numerous attentive visitors, especially students. In a letter from Lerner to artist Adrian Piper, whose work was featured in the show, c. 7,500 was described as “fun to have and attracting many visitors.”

Christine Kozlov’s Nine Books Neurological Compilation: the physical mind since 1945 installed in c. 7,500 at the Walker Art Center, 1973

c. 7.500 was an important show for both Lippard’s career as well as the Walker. As Lippard’s work is revisited and her legacy is explored at the Brooklyn Museum, her brief stay at the Walker is an important part of that legacy and in the development of conceptual art.