Adrian Piper

(b. 1948)

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(1948– )

American artist, theorist, and philosopher. She was born in New York and studied art at the School of Visual Arts, New York, and then philosophy at Harvard University under John Rawls (1921–2002), the author of A Theory of Justice (1971), whose ideas about the need to reconcile liberty and fairness were a powerful influence on her. She met Sol LeWitt in 1967 and through him came into contact with Conceptual and Minimalist artists. In a tribute to LeWitt she said that ‘he proved that we could be artists and theorists at the same time’. She brought to Conceptual art her interests in philosophy and in race and gender issues. Piper is black but pale-skinned, so that her ethnicity sometimes passes unnoticed and she has made work which challenges attitudes to racial identity. In the Mythic Being series (1973–6) she constructed an alternative identity, providing cryptic diary entries which she placed as advertisements in the New York magazine Village Voice, chosen because it reached an audience outside the art world. Cornered (1988) is a video installation in which the television screen is set up behind a table on its side, suggesting an improvised barricade. The confrontational nature of the setting at first seems to be at odds with the calm nature of the video itself, in which Piper talks with a demeanour and appearance which reminds spectators of a schoolteacher or a librarian. What she says challenges the idea of pure ‘whiteness’ in race, pointing out the probability that in the United States even those who imagine themselves as ‘white’ are in fact of mixed ancestry. Piper has also had a distinguished career as a philosopher, in which capacity she was professor at Wellesley College. There are clear links between her philosophical and artistic interests in that her writings have explored the roots of racism and also how it might be combatted, by drawing on the writings of Immanuel Kant. However, she cheerfully admitted to an interviewer: ‘When I am in an art context, for me to start spouting philosophy is going to guarantee that I will put everyone to sleep.’ She now lives and works in Berlin.

http://www.carnegiemuseums.org/cmag/bk_issue/2001/marapr/awm1.htm T. Sokolowski ‘Adrian Piper: A Conversation’, in Carnegie Magazine (2001).

Subjects: Art.

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