edited by Aruna D’Souza. Duke University Press, November 2020. 376 p. ill. ISBN 9781478011132 (pbk.), $28.95.
Reviewed March 2021
Scott R. Davis, Reference & Catalog Librarian, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, email@example.com
Lorraine O’Grady: Writing in Space, 1973-2019 is a timely contribution that situates Lorraine O’Grady within the trajectory of conceptual and contemporary art of the 1980s to the present day. It appears in advance of the artist’s retrospective Both/And at the Brooklyn Museum, which receives a catalog of its own. Just as importantly, the collection positions O’Grady thinking within the broader framework of feminist and Black and African diaspora studies.
This publication brings together close to forty years of O’Grady’s essays and interviews. Writing in Space provides readers the opportunity to untangle the - at times - dense theoretical prose and return to texts within their own time. Writings include texts about specific artworks such as “Mlle Bourgeoise Noire” and “Art is...” that provide crucial insight into the artist’s practice. Equally important are O’Grady’s essays dealing with broader matters of feminist and Black and African diaspora arts and artists. One notable example is “Olympia’s Maid.” O’Grady’s groundbreaking essay addressing representations and self-representations of the Black female body in visual art is an invaluable contribution extending beyond the discipline of art history.
In addition to texts that theorize and historically situate O’Grady’s own work are critical writings addressing her peers and younger contemporary artists including Kara Walker, Basquiat, and Adrian Piper. The book also features a series of full-color image plates, selected by O’Grady, functioning as a visual essay on its own, rather than mere reproductions of the artist’s work. This latter contribution vividly speaks to O’Grady’s concept of writing in space for which the collection takes its name, and this further highlights O’Grady’s nuanced thinking, allowing for her hybrid notion of “both/and” to flourish through the relationship between artist/writer and scholar/critic.
Aruna D’Souza’s erudite introduction leads the collection, along with brief introductions to each individual writing, creating valuable insight into O’Grady’s writing and work. The author provides an indispensable contribution to help guide both scholars and a more general reader. D’Souza also points toward how the book strives to recreate the non-linear approach and connections that O’Grady initially made through her archival website. While commendable, this approach may not achieve the same levels of success that websites manage with ease by use of hyperlinks.
Available in clothbound, paperback, and e-book editions, the publication is suitable for libraries with a range of budgets. Its inclusion of scholarly notes and an index make it particularly apt for museum and university libraries with a strong focus on the humanities. Additionally, there is a wide scope of appeal from contemporary art and its history, Black and African diaspora studies, feminist studies, and art criticism, making the book a strong choice for libraries serving a broad audience.