New York City 's Jewish Mother

2011 Words9 Pages
Mierle Laderman Ukeles: New York City’s Jewish Mother
Ukeles is most often studied as a feminist and environmental artist, and rarely is her Jewishness studied in relation to her art practice. To fully understand her art requires an understanding of her Jewish upbringing and her Jewish ideas—in particular, those ideas around ritual, cleansing, and repair.
The Standard story:
Late 60s, Mierle is a young art student at NYU. Her sculpture teacher sees that she is pregnant and tells her, “well, I guess now you can’t be an artist.”
She has her daughter with her husband, Jack. People keep saying to her, ‘well, do you do anything?” Experiences like these beginning to accumulate, as many mothers know all too well, and Mierle becomes keenly aware
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Once the artist creates their artwork, who is going to be there to clean up the never-ending accumulation of dust? Who is going to maintain it so that it can continue to be experienced?” She asked this question in another, revolutionary way, “After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?”
She wrote about maintenance and wrote about art, and she began to perform maintenance as art. First, at home—performing home maintenance and calling it art. By doing so, she assigns this work the cultural value that comes with the word, art, and then at the museum. She washes the floors, the stairs, the street, and the entry to the museum, a performance that she did on her hands and knes in variable body positions fo eight hours, for all museum visitors to see.
She took these typically invisible, behind-the-scenes, unvalued processes, and brought them into the light. She made, what she called, a, “life process of the museum visible.” And she assigned it cultural value, giving value to the labor and the laborers who keep it clean, who keep it safe—just like a mother. She took this notion of life process from her home to the museum (transition to other things—jewishness—she brought from her home)
She then takes it to the street, so she is going from the individual to the group to the system, when she becomes the artist in residence with the New York
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