Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation, 1979–1980. Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Transfer – The Maintenance of the Art Object, 1973. Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles, The Keeping of the Keys, 1973. Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Maintain your destiny – Earth Exchange (Kiss the Holy Earth), 1974–1975. Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.
The IMA presents Maintenance Art Works 1969–1980, a survey of Mierle Laderman Ukeles's early works. Although Ukeles took a seminal position in early conceptual and feminist art and is represented in almost every anthology of 1960s and 1970s artists, her work has not yet been explored for its wider significance. The exhibition presents major works spanning a decade of production and is based on a show at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts gallery in New York 1998. This is the first solo exhibition of Ukeles's practice in Australia.
The work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles (born 1939 in Denver, USA) concerns the everyday routines of life. In 1969, following the birth of her first child, Ukeles wrote her "Manifesto for Maintenance Art" as a challenge to the oppositions between art and life, nature and culture, and public and private. Her work aimed to highlight otherwise overlooked aspects of social production, and questions the hierarchies of different forms of work, especially of housework and low-wage labour. Ukeles was interested in how artists could use the concept of transference to empower people to act as agents of change and stimulate positive community involvement toward ecological sustainability. Since 1977, Ukeles has acted as artist in residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation, and realised radical public art as public culture in a system, which serves and is owned by the entire population.
"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. Now I will simply do these everyday things, and flush them up to consciousness, exhibit them, as Art." Laderman Ukeles, Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969.
In conjunction with Ukeles’s exhibition, the IMA is co-publishing Seven Work Ballets with Kunstverein Amsterdam, Grazer Kunstverein, Arnolfini, and Sternberg Press.
Ukeles completed an undergraduate degree in history and international studies at Barnard and studied visual arts at Pratt Institute in New York in the 1960s. Ukeles’ early work was experimental, and visually and symbolically conveyed the social unrest surrounding events such as the women’s movement and the Vietnam War. Since the 1970s, she has exhibited and performed widely, among others in C7500, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, USA (1973); Issue: Social Strategies by Women Artists, Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1980, both curated by Lucy Lippard); Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York (1998), WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; MoMa PS1, New York (2007–2008); Maintenance Art Works 1969–1980, Arnolfini, Bristol, and Grazer Kunstverein, Graz (both 2013).