Lee Lozano (1930 – 1999) has been described as one of the least known great artists of the New York scene of the 1960s and early 1970s. Navigating the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art, from Minimalism to Conceptual Art, she created a radical, overtly sexual, and aesthetically provocative body of work in a male-dominated art world. She rifled through styles at breakneck speed, from surreal representational drawing and painting, toward abstraction and, ultimately, word pieces and action-dominated art. As vivid and furious as the social and political changes taking place in America at that time, Lozano’s multi-faceted oeuvre, produced over the course of a single decade, traces a ceaseless investigation into the body and issues of gender, and a journey toward authentic and complete individuality in a world bent on creating consensus.
On January 12, 2011, Hauser & Wirth New York will open the first exhibition ever organized to focus exclusively upon one of the pivotal passages of Lozano’s journey. ‘Lee Lozano Tools’ will bring together a group of important works from 1963 and 1964, paintings and drawings of everyday hardware – exaggerated hammers, razor blades, screwdrivers, and wrenches so anthropomorphized that they appear to be objects in sexualized motion. The exhibition, including key works on loan from major private collections, will remain on view at the gallery through February 19, 2011.
Lee Lozano’s turbulent tool paintings and drawings can be understood as critiques of both sexual and art world decorum at a moment when the feminist movement had yet to coalesce and actively question either. She began using these objects so closely identified with male power and productivity in 1963, departing from the multi-colored, surreal ‘comix’ in which her acerbic wit and rebelliousness were expressed in punning captions (‘Let them eat cock’). With the tool paintings and drawings, Lozano’s intense relationship with language, perhaps the most continuous thread in her oeuvre, is invisible but still acutely felt. While these tool works bear no writing, the viewer is always aware that a ‘tool’ is both an implement used to build the world, and a slang name for a penis. Perhaps more meaningfully, the word ‘tool’ describes a dupe whose low self-esteem or limited knowledge invites others to take advantage.
The tool paintings and drawings might be viewed also as a form of late 20th century self-portraiture. The imagery allowed Lozano to advance an important tradition in the face of the challenges of photography and conceptualism, while exploring her own womanhood and her individuality as an artist at a moment when gender roles were being radically redefined. Whereas the prevailing atmosphere of early feminism demanded sisterhood and collaboration, Lozano grappled with consolidating her artistic self above all through a highly independent solo studio practice and absolute refusal to join in the group-oriented consciousness of the day. Her tools are proxies – monumental, fractious, and insistent. They suggest the mechanics of creation and illustrate Lozano’s tenacity in completely intermingling art and self.
About the Artist
Born Lenore Kastner in 1930 in Newark, New Jersey, Lee Lozano was active in New York City in the 1960s, exhibiting her work at the Green Gallery, which featured such artists as Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, and Tom Wesselmann. She also had exhibitions in Cologne and at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Lozano was educated at the University of Chicago and earned an MFA from The Art Institute of Chicago. During this time (1956 – 1960), she married and divorced Mexican- American architect Adrian Lozano. In her dazzlingly brief career, Lozano moved from representational drawing to abstraction to conceptual action art. By 1971, she was launching her most notorious conceptual action, effectively embargoing all contact with members of own gender, including friends and supporters. In 1972 she declared her independence from the established art world with ‘Drop Out Piece,’ moving from New York to Dallas and effectively disappearing. Lozano died in Dallas in 1999 at the age of 68.
In recent years, Lee Lozano’s work has been rediscovered and shown in leading museums internationally, including solo exhibitions in 2010 at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and in 2004 at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. Several paintings by the artist are featured in the Brooklyn Museum’s current exhibition ‘Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958 – 1968’. ‘Lee Lozano Tools’ is the third exhibition for the artist at Hauser & Wirth.