Lee Lozano: Drawn from Life, 1961-1971

Art Review by Donald Goddard

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Estate of Lee Lozano, courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich.
Untitled [trumpet penis], nd.
Crayon and graphite on paper,
11 3/4" x 17 3/4"
(LOZ 600)

Estate of Lee Lozano, courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich.
Untitled [hammer diptych], 1963.
Oil on canvas,
94" x 100"
(LOZ 197)

Estate of Lee Lozano, courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich.
Lean, 1966.
Oil on canvas,
78" x 123" (three panels)
(LOZ 233)

Estate of Lee Lozano, courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich.
Untitled [study for North South East West], 1968.
Graphite and ballpoint on paper with collage,
11" x 8 1/2" (LOZ 625)

Estate of Lee Lozano, courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich.
Untitled, 1968-79.
Graphite on paper,
11" x 8 1/2" (LOZ 552)

Art is fraudulent. Life is finite. No. Art is marked by fraudulence (and our "suspension of disbelief"), life by finiteness. It is impossible that they are not related--all of these things. When the parenthetical, finite life of her visible art began in 1961, Lee Lozano was 31; when it ended in 1971, she was 41. Before was her pre-parenthetical life, during which she married, graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1960, and presumably produced visible art--and after was her post-life, when she continued to make art, of which there is no material evidence. She died in 1999.

In contemporary terms, reality is understood not to be out there but within ourselves, or, more dangerously, the body of oneself as it acts and is acted upon through eyes, mind, limbs, hands, sexual organs, and other parts. Lozano's early drawings are ribald, in the tradition of sexual art, literary and musical as well as visual, going back as far as you want. It is impossible not to notice it, be aware of it, think about it, think about nothing else but it. There is no distance, as there is supposed to be in society, even in art circles, even in erotic art, even in pornography, even in our modern, permissive times. Thus there is fucking and other sexual pursuits in any number of somewhat metaphorical and not so metaphorical forms: doubled-over wrench; wrench and razor; hand and cock; cock in ear (male and female); hands holding flashlight and cock; cock, cross, and ice-cream cone; airplanes and wide-open mouths and teeth; "ron k. masturbated with a vacuum cleaner but his cock got too big" (written above image); trumpet penis. The drawings cover every bit of the paper--everyday paper, notebook paper, drawing paper--in very strong outlines and shading, like cartoon drawing. The images are in the paper as though it were the only place they could be, just as I am in the only place I can be. They are meant to be felt, and to be felt completely, the only things that exist at that moment.

When the transfer takes place to paintings, only the metaphor remains, as in the "hammer diptych" and the painting of a wrench. They are enormous, much larger than life, powerful tools clamping down and painted with great bold strokes and contrasting surfaces of light and shadow. They are also extremely vulnerable, the hammer seeming to move (skulk) away from the viewer, with its tines flopping down like a rabbit's ears. In any case, the hammer and the wrench have entered a state of supra-reality--of art. They are no longer notations, and have become something beyond what they might have been to begin with. We are now in the area of investigating what they are, abjection and all. They have been greatly magnified and turned into collations of brushstrokes that push to the outer edges of the picture, the canvas.

So that is where Lozano remains headed. The most intense feelings of the self, the world, are pushed to their outer limits to become waves and points in a much larger universe. She explores wave theory (of which, I must say, I have only the dimmest understanding) in a way that perfectly suits painting, like the waves and the variations in light that define the hammer. There are no "wave paintings" in the show, but there are others that represent this universe. Lean seems to be a diagram, in great, abiding detail and infinitesimal shadings of orange-red, of how colors have existence beyond our comprehension, but that the only way one might play them out is through a variety of numerical proportions and a disjunction of geometric forms that has the forms all leaning on and supporting one another. The result is a surface of extraordinary elegance and beauty, and one that is maddeningly secondary to real life.

Lozano's visual passion is boundless. She is interested in everything that touches on art, on color and form. Like William Turner or Thomas Cole, she makes endless notations about these things and is constantly discarding what she doesn't like, what doesn't work, what is stupid. Or rather, her passion is bounded by what she could never know--the wavelengths that go from visible to invisible and then beyond. The limits are shown in a huge piece called North South East West of 1969 in which the four outer arcs of a circle--the circle of the world, of the universe--are painted on four panels, the whole totaling almost 20 feet square. It is the circle within which we exist, that rules us, with its center identified in one of her studies as "Beelzebub's asshole," and Buckminster Fuller quoted as saying, "As soon as I complete the drawing of a circle, I wish to be outside of it." Lozano wished to be also. In another notated page of 1968-70 she pictured a "detail of imaginary universe belt," the ends meeting at her being. She is the place, the body, where everything is held together, the "top of a universal sigh, the bottom of a universal cough." A reasonable thought.

Along the way and finally, from 1969 through 1971, she drew up propositions, just handwriting on paper, for pieces that were simply to be acted out rather than produced in any material form, including the demise of her own career in the art world. These included Thinking Offer, Fascist Experiment, Dialogue Piece, Grass Piece, No Grass Piece, Masturbation Investigation, General Strike, Give Up Publicity, Thinking Abt. Form and Content, Lozano Emergency T S Fund, and I Have No Identity. There was to be no record of the dialogues, and there isn't, over the last 27 years of Lozano's life in Dallas, Texas, where she moved from New York in 1972.

Donald Goddard © 2004

The exhibition was on view at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101.

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