Mierle Laderman Ukeles “Chasing the Humming of Life”

The Gallatin Gallery

poster for Mierle Laderman Ukeles “Chasing the Humming of Life”

This event has ended.

I am an artist. I am a woman. I am a wife. I am
a mother (random order).
I do a hell of a lot of washing, cleaning, cooking,
renewing, supporting, preserving, etc. Also,
(up to now separately) I “do” Art.

– MANIFESTO! MAINTENANCE ART 1969! Proposal for an Exhibition “CARE”, 1969

For over fifty years, Mierle Laderman Ukeles has been at the forefront of rethinking the artist’s relationship to labor, the environment, feminism, and activism, all the while questioning the artist’s role when it comes to engaging the public. The task of making the unseen visible has been central to Ukeles’s practice. She engages with the ideas of the social and political world and also interacts directly with the people and the physical work involved. While this approach was originally framed within the contexts of feminism, so-called “women’s work,” and the social and political movements of the 1970s, the ideas of maintenance and maintenance art, as it came to be known, have applications to the everyday practices of creative labor, human empathy, and the environment.

Two of Ukeles’s earliest works of maintenance art, both from 1973, included the artist scrubbing the steps of the Wadsworth Atheneum and the sidewalk in front of New York’s A.I.R. Gallery. These artistic acts of “washing, cleaning, cooking, renewing, supporting, preserving” the steps of a museum were the obvious first phase of a progression that led her to explore larger scale considerations. In Touch Sanitation (1979), she explores the waste created by the inhabitants of New York City. A central concern in all of her work is that of urban spaces and those who maintain them. Ukeles’s attention affirms the life and humanity of those involved, without whom the machinery of everyday life would grind to a halt. She acknowledges that these same people are often rendered invisible by the nature of their labor. In Touch Sanitation, she affirms that “A human being always has the freedom to say NO. But a human being also has the freedom to say YES.”

Central to Ukeles’s practice is the existence and coexistence of those in urban environments. Because of her interventions, the concepts of sanitation, waste, and so-called “women’s work” have been celebrated and interacted with, as have her interactions with the workers who perform in these arenas; these interactions are part of what would eventually be referred to as explorations of “social practice.” Often playful in expression but always dead serious in their social, political, and environmental implications, the artist’s works engage with aspects of the world all too often left out of contemporary art discourse. While the (mostly male) artists of her generation in the 1970s were focusing on industrial processes that attempted to eliminate the human, Ukeles focused on the human aspect of these processes, foregrounding the impact of things like waste and labor on those most directly impacted by their existence.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles:Chasing The Humming of Life contains video works from 1979 to 2019, each set within an urban environment in various parts of the world, including in New York City, Pittsburgh, Chicago, as well as in Japan, France, and Holland.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles (1939) received a BA in international relations from Barnard College and an MA in interrelated arts from New York University. In 1977, she was appointed the first official, unsalaried Artist-in-Residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation. Her seminal work, MANIFESTO! MAINTENANCE ART 1969! Proposal for an Exhibition “CARE”, (1969), and subsequent works brought her international recognition for work that addresses issues related to the environment, waste, labor, feminism, and the many unseen people that keep urban environments alive. Beginning with Touch Sanitation (1979), she has created numerous public works that engage systems of maintenance all over the world, including work ballets in New York, Pittsburgh, France, Holland, Germany, and Japan. She is represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts and has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim, Andy Warhol, Joan Mitchell, and Anonymous Was a Woman foundations.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, wearing a green workers outfit, talks to a sanitation worker in a razed site of a debris and ruble. In the background urban apartments are silhouetted.
Thursday, September 15
5:00 – 6:00 pm Reception for the Exhibition
6:00 – 7:30 pm Keynote Lecture by Mierle Laderman Ukeles

The Discard Studies Collaborative 2022 Conference is free and open to the public.



from September 15, 2022 to October 13, 2022

Opening Reception on 2022-09-15 from 17:00 to 18:00
6:00 – 7:30 pm Keynote Lecture by Mierle Laderman Ukeles

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