Lee Lozano Strike

Pinacoteca Agnelli, Turin 8 March – 23 July

- Mariacarla Molè

Reading the words of Lee Lozano’s General Strike Piece (1969), at the entrance to this show, is like listening to a sour cackle through rotten teeth. While the Pinacoteca Agnelli is currently receiving plenty of hype under new director (and this show’s cocurator) Sarah Cosulich, here is the American artist claiming the right, circa her fortieth year, to ‘gradually but determined­ly avoid to be present at o¿cial or public uptown functions or gatherings’, until her definitive dropping out of the New York artworld around 1970. General Strike Piece is one of Lozano’s so-called Language Pieces, often handwritte­n in block letters, dictated by self-imposed rules and composed as a kind of script of actions, eg masturbati­ng, smoking grass ‘to stay high all day and see what happens’ or being without grass for the same amount of time. The conceptual core thus had a performati­ve e©ect, actively shaping Lozano’s everyday life. The stated desire to dedicate herself to a ‘total personal and public revolution’ away from the ‘uptown’ scene also fit perfectly into the utopian fantasies of late-60s countercul­ture, expressed in radical acts of defection and refusal for artists. The piece appears as a statement of intent, introducin­g us to a practice that mixes art and life; it invites viewers to read what follows – a selection of paintings from both her figurative and minimalist bodies of work, alongside accompanyi­ng studies and drawings – through the lens of her conceptual works.

In Strike, then, you’re encouraged to feel presence as the other side of absence, and figuration as the flipside of abstractio­n. This emerges clearly in the first room, via a breathtaki­ng flood of academic graphite, crayon and pencil drawings (1959–64) of fragmented human anatomies; here Lozano combines male body parts with props and tools. These sardonic chimeras build a fundamenta­l vocabulary, preparing us for the grotesque visual irony that dominates the cartoonish pop-expression­ist

Pun drawing series (1962), satirical compositio­ns of words and caricatura­l images. One of these consists of a dick stuck in the roller of a typewriter on whose keys are words like think, cock, cunt and work. Again, Lozano’s practice prescribes actions. It’s entertaini­ng to guess: who is this dick? A conceptual male artist? The entire male gender? Or perhaps it belongs to Clement Greenberg: after all, Lozano seems to play with – and make worldly – all the modernist modes that the influentia­l New York critic traced and wrote about, from Abstract Expression­ism to Pop art, winding up with post-painterly abstractio­n.

Elsewhere, the Tools paintings (1962–64) explode with vigorous brushstrok­es, and become progressiv­ely more abstract until it is di¿cult to recognise the syncretism of bodies and tools that Lozano is apparently driving at. Anthropomo­rphised bolts, screws and (maybe) wrenches are marked by an eroticism situated between the tendency to reveal everything and the inclinatio­n to fade it into something else. Abstractio­n is finally achieved in works from the All verbs series (1964–65), such as Clamp, Crook and Swap: monumental and minimalist paintings, where she reached pure action made by pure material, using straight brushstrok­es and geometrica­l shapes where form and colour merge. Thus Strike, as we’re apprised from the outset, draws attention to the various fractures, twists, ruptures and withdrawal­s within Lozano’s career, and the artworld that surrounded and propelled them.

In this sense Lozano’s artistic practice runs directly parallel to her life, linked by the same tendency to progressiv­ely subtract, to lighten the load, before completely fading and disappeari­ng. This becomes more and more clear when reading Lozano’s doubts around her search for a new knowledge system and way of learning in Notebook 8 (1970) – placed as the exhibition’s afterword – where she’s again looking for a fresh start. What the exhibition makes clear is not only her art’s protean nature, but how it mirrored a life angled towards self-annihilati­on. Lozano progressiv­ely changed her own forename from Lenore to Lee to just E; she finally elected to be buried, in 1999, under an unmarked tombstone.

 ?? Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano. Courtesy Pinacoteca Agnelli, Turin ?? Strike, 2023 (installati­on view).
Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano. Courtesy Pinacoteca Agnelli, Turin Strike, 2023 (installati­on view).
 ?? Courtesy Hauser & Wirth ?? No title, c. 1962–63, oil on wood, 38 × 34 × 2 cm. © The estate of Lee Lozano.
Courtesy Hauser & Wirth No title, c. 1962–63, oil on wood, 38 × 34 × 2 cm. © The estate of Lee Lozano.

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