Lorraine O’Grady – Studies (Works)

Selected Works

Lorraine O'Grady

September 12 – October 31, 1998

Lorraine O’Grady – Studies Press Release

“Studies” for a work in progress on Charles Baudelaire,

the first modernist poet, and his Haitian-born wife, Jeanne Duval

In her second solo exhibition with the gallery, Lorraine O’Grady shows two digital cibachrome diptychs, defining prototypes of an eventual 16-diptych installation. Additional sketches, plus a small library, give further insight into the thinking and methodology of the work in progress.

In these diptychs, a Nadar photograph of Baudelaire is juxtaposed with a Baudelaire drawing of Duval. Each is layered with crops from Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, as well as with text constituting an imaginary dialogue.

O’Grady writes: “Charles Baudelaire is often referred to as the West’s first modern poet and its first modern art critic. It would be no exaggeration to say that Baudelaire created his most important poetry out of his response to an allegedly destructive relationship with Jeanne Duval, his black common-law wife of 20 years. A close reading of his poetry would indicate that he may also have developed an aesthetic theory, that of a beauty which is contradictory and ambiguous and of its time, based on the example she provided as well.”

Jeanne’s obliteration from history is countered in O’Grady’s diptychs through the invention of a language which reflects the dilemmas of a woman caught up in diaspora. Her placement on an equal pictorial plane with Charles presents them as “a complex couple at a particular historical moment, i.e. the apex of Europe’s political and cultural empire.” Subject to the same forces which would later result in Picasso’s Demoiselles, the two embody “the psychologically complex ways modernism constructed itself out of Europe’s encounter with the worlds it colonized.”

Since the early 90’s, the diptych has been a primary device of O’Grady’s formal language. Beyond its critical component, here the diptych serves to unite historically alleged antagonists in a shared humanity. “With the diptych, there’s no being saved, no before and after, no either/or; it’s both/and, at the same time.” By not positing a resolution, O’Grady provides the viewer with what Anne Higonnet, in writing of her work, has called “a place of multiple possibilities, where you and I, from wherever we come, can alter our trajectories.”

O’Grady’s work has been exhibited in such venues as Le Magasin, Grenoble, France (1997), ICA Boston and Louisiana Museum, Humblebaek, Denmark (1996), and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford (1995), and has been discussed in such publications as Roselee Goldberg, Performance: Live Art Since the 60s (forthcoming), Richard J. Powell, Black Art And Culture in the 20th Century (1997), and Norma Broude and Mary Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art (1994).


back to top