When I started reading Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America, I had forgotten that I requested a book from the public library: Democracy, by Group Material and the Dia Art Foundation published in 1990 the same year Mixed Blessings was. Keeping to my rules, I haven't read it. I've browsed through the table of contents and noticed some incredible writers, among them Henry Louis Gates Jr., bell hooks, and Bill Moyers. These names have put my mind in the perspective of Lucy Lippard's world during the late 1980's when presumably she starting writing Mixed Blessings. Call them post-colonial, progressive, liberal, radical or realistic, the rhetoric of the writers I just mentioned are by no mean subtle. The late 1980's marked a continuation of thought that had its roots in the 60's movements and begged for a different world order to emerge. Mixed Blessings was written at a crucial time for art, a period filled with unfinished business and final battles for equal representation, artistic expression, and total inclusion. Reminisent of 1968, something was in the air. Countless people were dying of AIDS (and still are), Nelson Mandela was freed, East and West Germany reunited, the Cold War ended, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and some listened to Madonna's Vogue. The capitalistic game was a foot and the Guerrilla Girls could afford to put advertising on the side of buses in New York City. Old world structures were dismantling and artists were reflecting it (e.g. Group Material's Democracy).The Culture Wars were waged in full swing by conservative Americans such as Jesse Helms wanting to take back “their culture” so that it reflected the ideas and beliefs of “American” people.
As I've been reading Mixed Blessings, I am overwhelmed by the amount of information that is jammed in it. It almost seems like Lippard was writing a last will and testament on the day before Warsaw's Nazi seize. Lippard's voice can sometimes be so prophetic as well as have a scared-straight quality. There have been moments though when her writing seems aggressively romantic bordering cliché: “...is not imprisoned by her cultural sources, but freed by them”1. Considering that the book is devoted to the unearthing of, “a little-known explosion of art by women and men from many different ethnic backgrounds”2, it is pretty thin (total 270 pages with notes and bibliography). Was it little-known to the publisher? I get the feeling that Lippard was influenced by the momentum of the time. She just wasn't getting on the band wagon of collaborative groups when she wrote Mixed Blessings. She wanted to be a cultural bridge between two co-existing and separate art worlds, those in and those kept out.
I visited El Museo del Barrio the other day, and seeing it's revamped space I discovered new artists that were making dynamic art throughout the 20th century. Visitors around me were amazed to discover them and their history in a silenced existence. I kept Lippard's book in focus asking myself as I walked through the space, “Has her goal to inform the public of art made by people 'of different ethnic backgrounds' been successful?” As I sat on the train reading the second chapter "Telling", I noticed the name of an artist whose work impressed me and my friend at the museum. It was a video made in 1958 which consisted of reedited news reels from WWII and the Korean War. The footage was manipulated and rearranged in such a way to magnify the absurdity of war propaganda. The piece's formality was exceptional. It was by Rafael Montaňez Ortiz. On page 94 of Mixed Blessings, is a photograph documenting a performance piece, Communion with Trees, in Italy on the property of Fluxus artist Robert Watts in 1988. I found out that Ortiz was not only “pioneering the performance art field”3, but was also the first director of el Museo. My friend pointed out that our tour guide had failed to point out Montaňez Ortiz's piece.
Lippard, Lucy Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America, New Press: New York, 1990
1. Lippard, Lucy Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America,p. 67
2. ibid, back cover
3. ibid, p. 93
Alicia Grullon's projects consist of performances and photography in public spaces. She is interested in the connections between art and activism. She has exhibited at Mount Holyoke College’s Five College Women’s Studies Research Center, Raritan Community College, Masur Museum of Art, the Peekskill Arts Festival, Samuel Dorsky Museum at the State University of New York at New Paltz, Hunter College Gallery and The University of Rhode Island. Awards include: Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art 2007-08, Chashama Visual Arts Award, Research Associateship at Mount Holyoke College, and Arts Council Korea International Artist Residency at Stone and Water Gallery in Anyang, South Korea. She’s participated in 2008’s Art in Odd Places Pedestrian and Jamaica Flux 2010 at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.