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Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Maintenance Art Tasks 1973 (detail), album with gelatin silver prints, chain, and rags, 13 × 12 1/2 × 1 3/4". Photographs by Joshua Siderowitz, 1973.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Queens Museum

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Maintenance Art Tasks 1973 (detail), album with gelatin silver prints, chain, and rags, 13 × 12 1/2 × 1 3/4". Photographs by Joshua Siderowitz, 1973.

“MAINTENANCE ART,” Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s dense and radiant Queens Museum retrospective, is not only about maintenance but about commitment: a groundbreaking practice of labor and care that the artist invented and to which she has remained devoted for decades. The blessing/crisis of motherhood precipitated her bold conceptual move. In 1969, as a young artist burdened by the demands of housekeeping and childcare, she had little time to devote to her “real” work, so she hit upon a Duchampian-feminist method of designation to transform her crucial yet unrecognized labor—and eventually that of many others—into art. A urinal is not Maintenance Art, but the process of disinfecting one could well be. As Ukeles explains in her famous, wonderfully off-the-cuff manifesto composed that pivotal year, maintenance, the term for repetitive tasks of sustenance, preservation, renewal,

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