Adrian Piper - Mythical Being

January 29, 2018

Today's blog is about an amazing visual and performance artist named Adrian Piper.  Her art often confronts social norms, race and gender. There are so many things to examine in her works so lets go!



American, b. 1948 in New York 


PhD in philosophy from Harvard


Currently lives in Berlin 


Art Career




"LSD Paintings

  • These works were trippy, psychedelic, and colorful.

Alice Down the Rabbit Hole;, 1965,

tempera on canvas board, 45.7 x 61 




1970's: Performance and Conceptual Art 

  • Introduced issues of xenophobia, race and gender into the vocabulary of Conceptual art with Catalysis (1970-72) and Mythic Being (1973-75) performance series.

  • The Catalysis  series challenges social norms and behavior by 'disrupting' expectations of how one should act or appear in public. She did various things like wear a 'wet paint' sign or soak clothes in vinegar, eggs, milk and cod live oil for a week and then wore them on the subway during rush hour.1 As you con imagine her defying social convention provoked many different reactions.


  • Mythic Being questions gender identity and construction. Dressing as a man changes how others interpret her sharing parts of her own history. 



1980s and 1990s 


She focused more on visual art and self portraits after the 1970s. In many of her works at this time addressed gender, race and identity.   


 "Self-Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features", 1981 


The I am Some Body series she examines her identity within her social circle by sharing 'selfies' taken in various group settings over the early 1990s.


In the 1990s the artist also frequently added text in her work to address identity, race and gender. Decide Who You Are is a brilliant and haunting example where she mixes text and images.  Her most recent work  continues to include text, installation and performance elements. 



Is Her Art Feminist Art???


Another issues addressed in her work is gender identity, social constructs, and gender roles. The following was written by her in March 2007.  



"Feminism is that state of affairs in which women compete with men to give support and encouragement to one another, rather than competing with one another for rewards and approval doled out by men.

Feminism, anyone?

I consider myself to be a feminist, according to this definition, because I work to achieve a feminist state of affairs in my personal and professional relationships with other women. I do not consider myself to be a feminist artist because I do not do my artwork in order to achieve this state of affairs, nor is this state of affairs the primary subject matter of most of my artwork. When asked to speak to this issue, my practice is to reiterate the same criticism I made in Political Self-Portrait #1 (1979). Following is a more recent version of that criticism:

I answer this request with observations based on my personal experience and not on theoretical analyses I have read (not many) or public pronouncements I have heard (too many). I continue to hope that I will encounter some feminism in my lifetime. So far I haven’t gotten lucky. We took the first step toward feminism in the 1920s and the second in the 1960s. But we still are not even close to anything that deserves the name of feminism. Aside from all of those theoretical analyses and public pronouncements, today I mostly encounter the same dysfunction I criticized in Political Self-Portrait #1[Sex] in 1979: We are still competing with one another for approval and rewards doled out by men. We are still subordinating our familial, social and professional relationships with one another to our familial, social and professional relationships with men. And we are still advancing our narrow self-interests with men at the expense of our deeper wellbeing and interests in one another."

*© Adrian Piper Research Archive 2007



I find Ms. Piper's work cerebral, strong, confrontational and unapologetic. Those qualities sum up what I like most about here work. If there is something you find interesting or observations you would like to share please do. 









Useful Links


Click here to see more examples of her artwork.

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