Art exhibit to highlight Lil Picard


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Lil Picard’s artwork is an autobiography.

“Her art is very much about her life,” said Kathleen Edwards, the University of Iowa Museum of Art chief curator. “A lot of her collages include actual pieces from her everyday life.”

From the jumble of cosmetics incorporated into Lady Woolworth to the personal photographs included in her later work, a close examination of Picard’s work gives one a sense of her many roles in the New York art scene of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s.

Iowa City residents will get the opportunity to learn about her past through Lil Picard and Counterculture New York, an exhibition opening in the IMU Black Box Theatre today and running through May 27. Admission is free.

UI junior Stephanie Peterson admires Picard’s avant-garde approach to art and looks forward to seeing some of the pieces up close.

“I like how she did assemblages,” the art major said. “They’re not just paintings. She grabbed things from the real world, put them on canvas, and then worked it into her picture.”

Picard originally lived in Germany, working in a cabaret and as a journalist until the Nazis forced her to flee to New York in 1937. There she wrote for such publications as The Village Voice and Artforum and began to establish herself as a prominent artist with her collages, paintings, and performance art that commented on the rapidly changing times.

Photographs and remnants of her performances are included in the exhibition, which, Edwards says, are especially captivating because of the artist’s age at the time.

“When performance art was really getting going in New York in 1964, she was 63 years old,” Edwards said. “You had performance artists like Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann, but they were 45 years younger than Lil Picard was.”

One display showcases the ties burnt during one of Picard’s art happenings as part of a “destruction in art” protest of the Vietnam War, just one of many causes that the artist took up during her career.

Feminism was also a recurring issue in Picard’s work, criticizing the mass media’s portrayal of women and exploring open marriage, sexual freedom, and equality.

“This kind of feminist critique was fairly early,” Edwards said. “At that point in time, it was pretty heady stuff. Even now, some of these issues are being dealt with in our society.”

To get her points across, Picard often brought in some of her experience as a writer, reading her own poetry to supplement her performance art and using clever wordplay in her work. Earwig Theatre, one of Picard’s pieces that includes deceased earwigs, uses an alternative definition of the insect’s name to poke fun at the Long Island art scene.

“If you look up an old definition of earwig, it means busybody,” Edwards said. “So using actual earwigs is a real pun.”

Earwig Theatre expresses the kind of humor that those close to the artist were so fond of. Edwards recalls old friends of Picard flocking to the exhibition’s début in New York for the long-overdue tribute to the artist’s celebrated life.

“She was very unusual in what she was able to accomplish, and she never had real attention paid to her,” Edwards said. “It always kind of stuck in the back of my mind as a project that was very important to do.”

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