Today from our sister publication Art Practical we bring you Aruna D’Souza’s reflections on Mierle Laderman Ukeles at the Queens Museum. This article was published as part of Art Practical’s issue 8.1: Art + Citizenship. D’Souza states “[Ukeles] work, and the role of the artist that her work inscribed, makes a powerful argument for the artistic possibilities of citizenship—and the responsibilities, obligations, and collective pleasures that go along with it.” This article was originally published on November 10, 2016.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art, at the Queens Museum (on view through February 2017), is the first museum survey devoted to the artist. Over the course of her five-decade-long career, most of which was spent as artist-in-residence with the City of New York Department of Sanitation, Ukeles mapped out a practice that seems to place her somewhere between the late-20th-century strategy of institutional critique and the current vogue for social-practice art. The former is one in which the artist carves out, no matter how provisionally, an outsider position from which to shine light on the biases and inequities institutions enact and reproduce. The latter involves a participatory, collaborative, socially engaged immersion into a field, usually undertaken with an activist intent. If neither of these labels seems quite the right fit for Ukeles, it is because she neither considered herself an outsider to the systems she was operating in nor an activist. Instead, her work, and the role of the artist that her work inscribed, makes a powerful argument for the artistic possibilities of citizenship—and the responsibilities, obligations, and collective pleasures that go along with it.