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 Adrian Margaret Smith Piper  (1948 - )

/ PY-per/


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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/New York      Known for: conceptual, performance, video and installation art

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A bi-cultural woman with parents who identified themselves as "colored", Adrian Piper is a Conceptual* artist who in the late 1960s, was at the forefront of this movement, whose focus is more directed to concept or underlying philosophy than to  creative process.   Piper, whose audiences are ethnically diverse, is dedicated to 'anti-racism' and to deliver her message, often incorporates "politically charged" text, videos and performance in her work.  She "chooses to remain free of the dictates of the marketplace and chooses her direction and content outside its accepted parameters, which often result in her being marginalized.  . . .The driving impetus behind all of her work is to galvanize viewers, transforming their position from voyeurs to subjects." (Weaver 421-22)

From childhood, Piper, who was raised in Harlem, New York, has lived in a world of paradox, of "multiple persona" where, because of her light skin color, many people have assumed she is white.   Although she could have operated in society-at-large under the 'safe' guise of a white person, she "chose to claim herself as black." (Weaver, 422)   According to Halima Taha, African-American art scholar, "Adrian Piper is considered Black based on American law in which anyone with a Black ancestor is Black.  This is based on the property and chattle laws that supported slavery."

In January, 2001, special exhibits of her work were held concurrently at three New York galleries: the Thomas Erban Gallery, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Paula Cooper Gallery.  In these venues, Piper exhibited mix-media works and minimalist* drawings, some on pages of The New York Times, intended to force viewers to think about how they automatically make racial definitions.  Some of her pieces depicted embracing naked figures, utterly sensual and erotic; others were cartoon bubbles and photofit versions of her own face, exaggerating her hopefully negroid features, her collages* of herself as a threatening black man, presumably with an obvious comic edge.

Piper's education includes the School of Visual Arts in New York, 1966-69, where she was awarded First Prize in Drawing;  City College of New York, 1970 to 1974; Harvard University, 1974-1977; University of Heidelberg, Germany, 1977-1978; Harvard University, 1981.  With the exception of the School of Visual Arts, her degrees have been in Philosophy, culminating in 1981, with a Ph.D.  She has held the position of Professor of Philosophy at Wellesley College and has publications in metaethics and metaphysics.

Awards include Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1979 and 1982; Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship*, 1989; and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Medal, 1995.

Exhibitions have included galleries in New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, University of Boulder Art Gallery, Lowe Art Museum, Santa Monica Art Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Washington Project for the Arts.

Submitted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Sources include:
A.M. Weaver, "Adrian Piper", St. James Guide to Black Artists, pp. 420-422
Halima Tama, African-American art scholar, information provided October, 2006 to AskART
Eleanor Heartney, "Blacks, Whites, Other Mythic Beings", Art in America, November 2001, p. 136

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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