The subtle verbs of Lee Lozano | Curly

At Lee Lozano’s Lean (1966), a coarse brushstroke repeatedly draws through thick oil paint, color gushing out in raised rows resembling corduroy. It is part of a meditative group of five paintings, all with verbs as titles: End (1966), Stuff (1965), twirl (1964), and Swap (1966). Each depicts one or more geometric shapes, such as cones or trees, stretching or spreading across canvases, contrasting hues running through the images in rays.

Lee Lozano, Lean, 1966, oil on canvas, three panels, 198.8 × 312.9 × 4.2 cm. Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth; photography: Barbora Gerny.

These paintings were Lozano’s first solo exhibition at the Bianchini Gallery in New York in 1966. Three years later, in 1969, she began to perform General strike piece, a work of unknown duration that consisted of his refusal to participate in the world of social and institutional art. Like ‘butt’ and ‘cram’, ‘strike’ is also a verb, an energetic conceptual act of refusal. ‘Lee Lozano: ALL VERBS’ at Hauser & Wirth shines a light on the quiet and easily overlooked actions of denial, reflection and planning.

Lozano’s works on paper are among the most electrifying of his oeuvre. ‘ALL VERBS’ includes compositional sketches and personal notes, as well as studies and variations on ‘verb’ paintings. Some of these preparatory pieces – an untitled drawing from 1964-1965 which looks like twirl, for example – are more interesting than finished works, having more verve and urgency in their composition and scribbled execution. Others are sketches of unrealized parts. An untitled 1968 study for a proposed series titled “Pot-Baller” depicts a diptych of two orbs: one is in the center of the left canvas, the other in the lower corner of the right canvas. Lozano notes under the sketch, “This painting must hang askew,” as if a painted ball weighs its canvas down, tilting the room askew. It’s both dopey slapstick, cunning manipulation of the medium, foreshadowing works such as Steven Parrino 13 Broken Panels (for Joey Ramone) (2001).

Plan for an unrealized series called pot-baller
Lee Lozano, No title, 1968, pen and graphite on paper, 28 × 22.2 cm. Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth; photography: Barbora Gerny.

Lozano’s conceptual work No title (1967) lists verbs she used for titles between 1964 and 1967, including End and Stuff. As Jo Applin adroitly points out in his monograph Lee Lozano: doesn’t work (2018), this piece surpasses Richard Serra’s most famous List of verbs (1967). Lozano’s list not only predates Serra’s; it is succinct where his is wordy, cheeky where his is leaden. And, fittingly, while his list ends with “to continue”, his ends with “STOP”.

Lee Lozano verb list
Lee Lozano, No title, 1967, pen on paper (facsimile), 27.9 × 21.6 cm. Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth; photography: Barbora Gerny.

Lozano is perhaps best known for his harsh conceptual actions such as decide to boycott women (1971), in which she stopped interacting with female peers. But this action is more subtle than we imagine: for the artist, it is not a question of a total desertion of his genre but rather of a rejection of the balkanized and gendered organization of Art. Workers’ Coalition, a group of artists advocating change in cultural establishments. Although she was conflicted over her decision to start acting, she pursued it until the end of her life (she died in 1999).

Image of Lee Lozano untitled drawing of arches
Lee Lozano, No title, 1967, graphite on paper, 28 × 21.5 cm. Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth; photography: Barbora Gerny.

Lozano’s self-doubt is also evident in this exhibit. In an untitled drawing from 1967, a blueprint for an unrealized painting of arches of different colors, she writes, “IS THIS SERIES ANOTHER BAD IDEA? To which we want to answer, ‘NO.’ Lozano did work that often eclipsed that of his peers, but it didn’t fit well with his background; that 30 of the 32 exhibits come directly from Lozano’s estate suggests how little of his work has been collected. Since the artist’s time, questions relating to the understanding of his work – public visibility, gender, resistance, personal autonomy, etc. – have undergone a radical social evolution. ‘ALL VERBS’ gives valuable insight into what prescient work, in which the subtle operative actions – withdrawing, planning, doubting – are easily overlooked.

‘Lee Lozano: ALL VERBS’ is on view at Hauser & Wirth, New York, through July 29

Main image: ‘Lee Lozano. ALL VERBS,’ Hauser & Wirth New York, 2022, installation view. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth; photography: Thomas Barratt.

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