In her new book Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West, published by The New PressLucy R. Lippard quotes tourism scholar Dean McCannell: “The best way to keep a cultural form alive is to pretend to be revealing its secrets while keeping its secrets.” This statement seems, reflexively, to sum up Lippard’s authorial project, which ranges in scope from elegiac documentation of landscapes under siege to “escape attempts” from the constraints of contemporary art, all presented in a fugue-like and somewhat elusive text that favors a woven narrative of shifting associations over cut-and-dried disquisition.

Undermining‘s greater focus is on land use in the Western United States. It’s a rhythmic volume: the main text is flanked along the top of each page with full-color images of landscapes, close-up details of adobe, far-off views of private corporate mining sites, and reproductions of works by artists from native communities of the American Southwest, often responding directly to the cultural, political, and personal implications of the radical transformations bearing down their communities. The result is a reading experience that gives the feeling of digging beneath the surface of these images—sifting the dirt, as it were—to touch on land art, landscape photography, tourism, water use, Navajo religious sites, and uranium mining.

As such, the book’s scope is broad, and it’s another step in Lippard’s continued movement away from the art world—where she made her first major contributions beginning in the late 1960s as a critic, curator, and author of the seminal 1972 book Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object From 1966 to 1972—toward something more akin to an archaeology of the American landscape that is both highly personal and universal in scope. If the image projected by Undermining don’t seem to be entirely hopeful about art’s political efficacy against such monumental challenges as corporate encroachment and environmental catastrophe, it is hopeful as a reconciliation between images and politics.

An interview of Lucy Lippard, by Ian Wallace of ArtSpace Magazine.

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