Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Ur-Mutter #8: framing art's political impotence
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Adrian Piper's 1989 photomontage Ur-Mutter #8 juxtaposes two provocative images. Both are reproduced from mass circulation periodicals that the artist adjusted to the same size and grayscale gradient. On the left is Jeff Koons's Artforum advertisement for his 1988-9 exhibition, Banality; on the right is New York Times photojournalist Peter Turnley's picture of a malnourished Somali mother and her child. Turnley's somber family portrait seems especially jarring beside Koons's theatrical shot of himself as a schoolteacher indoctrinating a classroom full of American kindergarteners into his art. My paper explores how Piper's appropriation frames Koons's ironic critique of mainstream art institutions' exploitative practices as an affirmation of them. I argue that Ur-Mutter #8 exposes ways in which his depiction of art's impotence diminishes the significance of art for marginalized people, like the hypothetical Somali subjects, who must fight for images and words in order to represent themselves. Because art's political relevance varies when approached from different perspectives, I contextualize Ur-Mutter #8's imagery in terms of Piper's and Koons's relationships to art establishments, art criticism, and art history during the late 1980s and early 90s. Through this analysis, I find that Koons's light treatment of social disparities suggests an aloof and privileged position. Piper's work, however, appears more concerned with interrogating the social insecurities that prompt the dismissive attitude expressed in Koons's ad. Although in some regards elitist and idealistic, her photomontage demonstrates that art is political because it demands that we negotiate representations with our own actions and beliefs.