Adrian Piper : Determined and Defiant to have the last word WORK EXISTS. THIS WILL NOT CHANGE / text Karen D. McKinnon

« Dear Friends,
For my 64th birthday, I have decided to change my racial and nationality designations. Henceforth, my new racial designation will be neither black nor white but rather 6.25% grey, honoring my 1/16th African heritage. And my new nationality designation will be not African American but rather Anglo- German American, reflecting my preponderantly English and German ancestry. Please join me in celebrating this exciting new adventure in pointless administrative precision and futile institutional control!« 

Adrian Piper has spent a lifetime challenging institutions and systems. She has searched for the truth in the work, relentlessly pursuing this end without shrinking from any associated consequences. Piper came to the New York art scene in the late 1960s. She takes her place with the luminaries of the original group of conceptual artists with the major retrospective of her work that took place last summer at the Museum of Modern Art and last Autumn at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The retrospective was set to continue in Munich at the Haus Der Kunst but was canceled as a casualty of the firing of prominent museum artistic director Okwui Enwezor along with another major show from the Tate Modern. Piper will no doubt respond through her work at some point in the future as pushing institutions beyond their limits and critique of institutions emanates from her center. 

Jeffrey Deitch, recalls in his talk at The Hammer Museum, that at 420 W. Broadway, the epicentre for conceptual art and “Piper was given equal respect among her fellow conceptualists.” 

Piper started the series “Concrete Infinity Documentation Piece (1970) where she applies conceptual principles to her performance work. Self performances -only done for the self. She has made a list of all actions that must be done on a daily basis. Piper recorded her weight, how often she peed or shat, her temperature, what she ate and when she slept, go deliver art work to MOMA. She documents what happened in that day. 

I ran into Vito Acconci. She uses her body as an object. The underpinning of Kant in her work is a powerful influence despite the paradoxical writings of Kant and race. 

As Serena Williams failed to advance in the Australian open in 2019, commentary fell back to the events at her losing the 2018 US OPEN and the assertion that to do anything less of a winning the championship, she must continue to suffer shame for her reaction. The confines of being Black and the stripping of the right to emotion, to behaviour afforded players of a different colour. Her opponent Naomi Osaka, 2019 Australian Open winner, a Japanese Woman of mixed-raced heritage, it’s a groundbreaking advertisement in that it had signed a person of colour to represent its brand produced a manga like cartoon blond tennis player, unable to celebrate the glory of its Japanese daughter. 

Dr. Nizan Shaked, writer and scholar, asserts that Piper’s work is a precursor Black Lives Matter. Piper’s work challenged Xenophobia with a series of performances. In “Catalysis I,” Piper she soaked her clothes in eggs, fish oil, milk and vinegar for a week then put them on and walked through various locals throughout New York City and documented the public’s reaction to her. She challenged the public’s notion of what it is to be Black and the spaces that Black people can occupy. The series entitled , “Mythic Being,” Piper confronts the public head on as she puts on a Afro wig, large shades and dresses as a man. She struts the streets of New York engaging the audience to confront their preconceptions. 

Piper joined several Women’s consciousness groups in the 1970s as opposed to identifying as feminist artist. In 2007, Piper states in ‘Feminist Art Statement,’ “I consider myself to be a feminist, according to this definition, because I work to achieve a feminist state of affairs in my per- sonal and professional relationships with other women. I do not consider myself to be a feminist artist because I do not do my artwork in order to achieve this state of affairs, nor is this state of affairs the primary subject matter of most of my artwork.” Breaking barriers had always been part of her makeup.


She did not come quietly or stay quiet on issues of African-American equality and fought for the students and for more inclusiveness of African-Americans while a professor at Wellesley College. This led to what she calls an extended campaign and exclusion against her. Her works were included in international exhibitions since the age of 20. But her place as a first generation conceptual artist may only have truly been felt as the impact of the MOMA show reverberates around the world as she is the first living artist to have been given an entire floor at MOMA. Was it the fact of being a woman or being African-American that has kept her from being discussed in the same breath as Sol Le Witt as opposed to speaking of him as her mentor or being discussed as a contemporary and member of this group for so long? Scholars certainly did not make that mistake one would hope and the MOMA show has brought to a wider art world and public just the place Piper occupies in the history of American Art.

Piper states in her interview “Rationality and the Structure of the Self” with Robert Del Principe, “I really did feel that the only thing that was important in the end was the quality of the work. Because you know we’re all going to die, and all of the power relationships and all of the negotiations about status and position and favor and approval and quid pro quo, all of those things that define professional relationships are going to dissolve, are going to disappear and what will be left is the work.” (…) Find the full text in something we Africans got issue 7