(born 1934, Boston, Massachusetts; lives and works in New York, New York)
In her iconic series of performances as the character Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire, Lorraine O’Grady marched into crowds wearing a tiara and a formal gown made from white gloves, often shouting manifesto-like poems or beating herself with a cat o’ nine tails. These “guerilla invasions,” as the artist calls them, took place in a variety of sites in the 1980s New York art world, from the New Museum of Contemporary Art to the gallery, Just Above Midtown. While her invented back story was that of a beautiful pageant winner from French Guyana, Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire offered a potent critique of infrastructures of which O’Grady was a part: She often targeted the racial divides in the early 1980s art world and the second-wave feminist movement’s lack of attention to issues of race and class.
Committed to social accountability, O’Grady often utilizes participation—regardless of the viewer’s intention—and her own body to question representation in specific contexts. In the performance Art Is . . . , O’Grady took her art to the streets, conceiving and producing a performance incorporating a float of her own design for the African-American Day Parade in the streets of Harlem. To the delight of gathered crowds, the performance included a nine-by-fifteen-foot antique-style gold picture frame that “framed” parade-goers. In this way, O’Grady asserted that anything and anyone outlined within the frame was art, extending the definition and appreciation of art to encompass a larger community.
Lorraine O’Grady received her BA from Wellesley College in 1955. O’Grady began making art in the 1980s after working as an intelligence analyst for the US government, a rock critic, and a translator. Her solo exhibitions include Broken Spaces: Cut, Mark, and Gesture, Alexander Gray Associates, New York (2013); Flowers of Evil and Good, Part 1, Alexander Gray Associates, New York (2011); Stress Test, Performa 11, New York (2011); The Face I Had before the World Was Made: Lorraine O’Grady, Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2010); Miscegenated Family Album, Art Institute of Chicago (2008); Lorraine O’Grady / Matrix 127, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT (1995); and Critical Interventions: Photomontages, INTAR Gallery, New York (1991). Her group exhibitions include This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2012, traveling); Intense Proximity, Art as Network, La Triennale, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Agitated Histories, SITE Santa Fe Biennial (2011); Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain (2010); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2010); Until Now: Collecting the New (1960–2010), Minneapolis Institute of Arts (2010); Extended Family: Contemporary Connections, Brooklyn Museum (2010); The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta (2009); WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2007, traveling); Documenting a Feminist Past: Art World Critique, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2007); African American Artists in Los Angeles: A Survey Exhibition; Fade (1990–2003), Luckman Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles (2004); Sexing Myths: Representing Sexuality in African American Art, Betty Rymer Gallery, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1998); Identity Crisis: Self-Portraiture at the End of the Century, Milwaukee Art Museum (1997); The Body as Measure, Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA (1994); Personal Narratives: Women Photographers of Color, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, NC (1993); Exquisite Corpses, Drawing Center, New York (1993); and Art as a Verb: The Evolving Continuum, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore (1988).