Lee Lozano: Notebooks 1967-70

Primary Information

Released March 2010
by Katie Geha

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      Lee Lozano
      Notebooks 1967-1970, selected page
      Courtesy of Primary Information

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      Lee Lozano kept detailed notebooks during her brief involvement in the New York art world from 1965 to 1972. The notebooks serve as documentation for Lozano’s late abstract paintings and her more conceptual language pieces. The writing in the notebooks reveals Lozano to be an astute observer of the New York art scene and marks her growing discomfort with the competition and exchange of money that is integral to this world. Her notes are direct and honest and often very funny.

      I first came across the notebooks three years ago in the files at the Blanton Museum of Art. Loose leafed and mimeographed, the notebooks revealed an incredibly original artist of the 1960s and 1970s. It is an important component in the history of conceptual art of this period and Primary Information should be lauded for publishing these documents.

      During this period Lozano exhibited re-transcribed pages from her notebooks alongside her paintings and drawings in New York, Berlin and Halifax. She showed at the Bianchini Gallery in New York with other well-known 1960s artists such as Mel Ramos and Robert Ryman. She was friends with Robert Morris, Yvonne Rainer and Carl Andre. In late 1972 she willfully “dropped out” of the art world by enacting her conceptual project Drop Out Piece, moved from New York to Dallas and quit producing work. The notebooks contain some of Lozano’s most private thoughts and explosive ideas about art and art practice before her departure.

      The notebooks had never been published in full until early this year, when Primary Information printed three of the notebooks from 1967-1970 plainly and in one volume. Wrapped in a soft brown cover, the book contains no scholarly introduction and there is only a brief blurb about Lozano on the back cover. Instead, the book is very much like the notebooks it recreates. The text is a pressing component to Lozano scholarship. After being almost completely written out of the art scene, re-emerging in 1998, then dying in 1999, which caused the prices of her work to skyrocket, critics and scholars have sensationalized Lozano’s life and work. She is discussed as a drop-out artist, a feminist, a woman-hater, an insane woman buried in a pauper’s grave. Rarely do discussions of her work, process and influence supersede discussions of her personal life.

      And while this may very well be what Lozano would want (in 1969 she wrote in the notebooks: “What I am waiting for is some kind of fusion between art and life”) the notebooks help reveal a complex character who ruthlessly dedicated her ordinary life to making an important work of art. Between notes on various paintings, the notebooks cite Lozano’s continued exploration of mind and body as she imposed directives on her day-to-day life and documented them as art pieces. The directives include what to wear and eat (Wear & Eat More-or-Less the Same Thing Everyday Piece), how to price her works (How to Price Drawings Piece) and even when to masturbate (Masturbation Piece).

      Lozano undertakes these tasks as a scientist would, faithfully recording her observations in the notebooks. In Grass Piece she details how she feels after smoking marijuana everyday for thirty-three days: “One thing that happens is that it takes more grass to get feelin’ good.” Or in its companion piece, No Grass Piece: “Half awake dreams (May 7, 69). Everything seems funnier (May 9, 69). Sleeplessness continues; fits of pique (May 10, 69). Uncontrollable sadness (May 10, 69), Deathness.”

      The publication of the notebooks helps to make clear Lozano’s relationship to other artists of the period and, thus, places her more firmly into an art historical context. Names of several now famous artists appear in her writing such as Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, Larry Poons and Dan Graham. Her 1964-1967 list of verbs written down in the notebooks (“Ream, Spin, Veer, Span, Cross, Ram . . .) closely resembles Richard Serra’s famous verb list from 1967/68 (“to roll, to crease, to fold, to store . . . “) And it is very possible that Serra was influenced by Lozano’s list as they met on at least one occasion. In May of 1969 Lozano writes: “Serra comes over a little high on beer & no food. Jut into dialogue with him (we’ve been smoking Saret’s hash) when he gets an attack (too stoned), falls off chair to floor with a crash, has ‘convulsions’ & passes out. Later he feels sick, lies down in bed until Saret comes over.”

      While her engagement with the New York art scene was brief, her writing in these notebooks makes evident the fierce intelligence, vulnerability and biting wit of Lee Lozano. Now everyone will know.

      Katie Geha is pursuing her Ph.D. in art history at The University of Texas at Austin.

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