#RespectYourElders: Adrian Piper (born 1948) is one of the world’s most respected conceptual artists. Her life’s work was recently showcased at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) — the largest show MoMA has ever curated for a living artist.
Piper made her debut as an artist when her work appeared in The Village Voice in 1969. She was only 19 years old. Just one year later, she exhibited her first works at MoMA. Since then, she’s produced a wide range of art forms, from street performances to video.
As an artist, Piper puts the focus on the “concept” of her artwork larger than physical result. She often aims to confront racial passing and racism in the United States, and draws on her own career for inspiration. In her 1986 performance piece “My Calling (Card) #1,” she gave a card to anyone who made a racist comment in her presence, revealing that she’s African-American. (Because she has lighter skin tone, people often assume she’s white.) Through this piece, Piper attempted to raise awareness about racism in the U.S.
Piper has received numerous awards for her work, including the Artist Award for Distinguished Body of Work from the College Art Association and the Women’s Caucus for Art’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She’s also an accomplished philosopher and has written many articles, teaching guides and books, including “Rationality and the Structure of the Self” in 2013. After receiving several prestigious fellowships, including from the Guggenheim Foundation, she became the first female African-American philosophy professor to receive academic tenure in the U.S.
Piper’s work continues to be exhibited, most recently by MoMA. From March to July of this year, MoMA displayed over 51 years of her works in a show titled “Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965–2016.”
One of the show’s curator’s told the New York Times that Piper’s influence is recognized not just through her own art, but through other artists’ works as well: “Since the ’90s, there’s a generation of artists whose work is really almost impossible without her.”
Read more about the 50 years of Piper’s works displayed at MoMA here.