New York

Lee Lozano

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

Whenever one comes across Lee Lozano’s work (and the opportunities are few and far between), it’s immediately apparent that this artist is an important “missing link” within the complex overlays and undercurrents of the many art practices and attitudes that flourished in New York in the ’60s. As is evident in this valuable exhibition that brings together rarely seen paintings, drawings, and text pieces from 1961 to 1971, Lozano epitomizes the artist as hybrid: Working in the soup of Conceptual, Minimal, Pop, and feminist practices that simmered at the time, she belongs everywhere and nowhere at once.

Lozano’s reappearance could be propelled alone by her rigorously austere paintings like the “Wave Series,” 1967–70. Outstanding for their restraint and lyricism, the artist’s cerebral abstractions are composed of floating and intersecting geometric planes articulated by carefully controlled gradations of neutral color. Her perforated paintings of the same period include cuts through the canvas, as though to make an imagined vanishing point real. Punch, Peek and Feel, 1967–70, is a cutout grid that verges on the destruction or dematerialization of its own surface. In North South East West, 1969, Lozano amplifies the environmental dimensions of her art by dispersing four panels at a distance from each other on a single wall—as if to activate the architecture by occupying it entirely.

But Lozano’s story goes far beyond the “triumph” of formal abstraction. At the opposite end of her creative spectrum is “tool” art—that is, works on paper and canvas that range from sketches to monumental paintings portraying hammers, drills, clamps, screwdrivers, vice grips, and related shop gear. The tools, we learn, are multifunctional, and through them Lozano puts her pornographic imagination on full display. In wild gestural drawings of the mid-’60s, scribbled with thick graphite lines and shot through with crayon color, tools rise up and smash the tangled masses of marks from which they’ve emerged. In large paintings and modest drawings alike, images of gigantic implements are crammed into frames that are always too small. Bulging out of pants zippers, sprouting genitals, functioning as dildos, and labeled with foulmouthed language galore, Lozano’s tools may be abject or aggressive, but they clearly have only one thing on their mind.

The voice that echoes in the “tool” art—with X-rated pictures and phrases that could have been borrowed from Screw—comes into its own in the text pieces of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Part diaristic (Lozano describes her own highs and lows and her struggles as an artist to survive), part social chronicle (she’s one of the Calvin Tomkinses of the downtown art world), this output also includes instructions for performative activities like a series of “take possession” pieces, a “throwing up” piece, and the elaborate “Grass Piece”—“Make a good score of excellent grass,” it begins—and a “No Grass Piece” (to see what happens without it) (all 1969).

Every time we see Lozano’s work the need arises to see more, not only toward a view of the fertile contamination that occurred as disparate movements rubbed shoulders (and more) below Fourteenth Street, but because we discover something of Lozano herself—her doubt, her dry wit, her anger, her intelligence, her importance, her struggle, and her marginality. Ironically, her time has come.

Jan Avgikos