The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agents, Private I

The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agents, Private I

The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agents, Private I

The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agents, Private I


Lynn Hershman Leeson's groundbreaking installation, performance, photography, video, digital, and film works have earned her an international reputation as a prodigious and innovative artist. This first historical and critical analysis of her work by prominent scholars and the artist herself brings nearly forty years of creative output into focus by tracking the development of her constant themes through each medium. The provocative essays in this volume, ranging from formal to theoretical to psychological to poetical analyses, establish her place at the forefront of contemporary art.

Hershman Leeson's work explores vision, spectatorship, and the construction of sexed subjectivity, touching on key feminist concerns relating to the lived experience of the physical body and the body as a medium on which social law and values are inscribed. Her projects of self-analysis and self mythification explode stable notions of identity. The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson demonstrates how Hershman Leeson's work uniquely mirrors fragmented human subjectivity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Especially useful are the artist's updated chronology and a DVD with excerpts from several of her works.

Copub: Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington


This book offers the first sustained critical attention to the art of Lynn Hershman. Hershman is a highly regarded personage who rightly figures in any comprehensive history of American art of the past thirty years or so. Numerous solo and group exhibition catalogues present substantial commentary on her art; articles on her work that have appeared in diverse journals and periodicals can be readily gathered or assimilated; and several recent books on feminist, conceptual, and performance art and video and new media cogently assess her production. Yet only now, in this volume, is a book-length study of her achievement being published. Collectively, these essays explore nearly forty years of work, and they range from formal to theoretical to psychological to “poetical” analyses of Hershman’s art.

Hershman’s art is among the most enigmatic, psychologically troubling, and philosophically ambivalent art produced by her generation. Ostensibly, her art deals with identity, selfrealization, and empowerment—themes that have compelled at least three generations of artists and that Hershman played a significant role in first articulating and later developing. At its deepest levels, Hershman’s art deals with the personal quest for a sovereign selfhood, and, beyond that, with the profound insularity of each individual, and, beyond even that, with the longing for deliverance from that insularity. From the outset, more than three decades ago, there has been a sustained elusiveness to her art, in which her protagonists—thinly disguised surrogates for herself—remain at arm’s length, untouchable, even as we peer into their souls.

The evolution of Hershman’s artistic expression has not been an easy arc. When she began her artistic education, formalism dominated the art world. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s Clement Greenberg, arguably the most influential broker-critic of the day, articulated a theory positioning the ideal experience of art in the eye, which could perceive the art object all at once, as an absolute totality, independent of everything external to it. Greenberg wrote that advanced artists needed to shed their egos in the pursuit of pure, formal beauty, distilling art to its . . .

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