115: Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local

Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local is a swan song to the hybridity of place – temporal and spatial, personal and political, geographical and psychological, lived and imagined, insiders and outsiders – and to the ways in which art, particularly public art, can mediate place’s connections between land, history, and culture.  For Lippard, lived experience is central to the construction of place, as are the accumulated sedimentations of experience, memories, and connections in a place.  If space is a memoryless landscape, place is a landscape mediated by human experience.

In an increasingly globalized world, for Lucy Lippard, the “lure of the local” is

the pull of place that operates on each of us, exposing our politics and our spiritual legacies.  It is the geographical component of the psychological need to belong somewhere, one antidote to a prevailing alienation.  The lure of the local is that undertone to modern life that connects it to the past we know so little and the future we are aimlessly concocting.

She explores these many sides of the local, and thus of place, from a variety of perspectives: mobility and the stranger; making places known through naming; photography as a text that fills the gaps in place; in place/ out of place; maps, particularly cognitive ones, as composites of places and times that they both hide and reveal; environmental racism; landscape photography and land art; gentrifying cities full of ghosts; homelessness; and privatization.  And throughout, she advocates for the power of an “art with a place ethic,” which would engage people at the level of their own personal experience, be borne of productive collaboration, and be accessible, evocative, and critical enough to draw people in and make them think deeply about the place.  As Joel Garreau says, ‘I keep on waiting for the artists to get out there to help decode the things that I don’t see.’

Although Lippard readily admits that attention to the local may lead to tunnel vision, she argues that right now (in 1997) it’s more important to hold onto the small picture than to keep the big one in mind, and she feels that art IN place (versus art ABOUT place) is the best way to keep the multiple, hybrid, sedimented local alive.


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