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Mierle Laderman Ukeles

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Subject: Institutional Critique, Community arts, Exploratorium, WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, List of feminist artists
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Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Born 1939
Denver, Colorado
Nationality American
Alma mater Barnard College, Pratt Institute
Notable work
  • Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969! Proposal for an Exhibition "CARE" (1969)
  • Maintenance Art Tasks (1973)
  • Hartford Wash: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside (1973)
  • Hartford Wash: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Inside (1973)
  • Touch Sanitation (1978-80)
Movement Feminist art movement

Mierle Laderman Ukeles (born 1939, Denver, Colorado) is a New York City-based artist known for her feminist and service-oriented artwork.[1]


As an undergraduate, Ukeles studied history and international studies at Barnard College and later began her artistic training at the Pratt Institute in New York.[1]

In 1969 she wrote a manifesto entitled Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969! Proposal for an exhibition "CARE", challenging the domestic role of women and proclaiming herself a "maintenance artist". Aside from "personal" or household maintenance, the manifesto also addressed "general" or public maintenance and earth maintenance, such as addressing polluted waters. Her exhibitions were intended to bring awareness to the low cultural status of maintenance work, generally paying either minimum wage or no payments for housewives.[2] Maintenance, for Ukeles, includes the household activities that keep things going, such as cooking, cleaning and child-rearing -[3] and during her exhibitions, she performed the same tasks that she would perform in her daily life, including entertaining guests.[2]

Several of her performances in the 1970s involved the maintenance of art spaces, including the Wadsworth Atheneum. Since 1977 she has been the Artist in Residence (unsalaried) of the New York City Department of Sanitation.[4]

Concepts and methodologies

The role of the artist for Ukeles is that of an activist: empowering people to act and change societal values and norms. This agenda stems from a feminist concern with challenging the privileged and gendered notion of the independent artist. For Ukeles, art is not fixed and complete but an ongoing process that is connected to everyday life and her Manifesto for Maintenance Art proclaims the infection of art by everyday mundane activities.[5] The gargantuan domestic actions that she performed primarily became inaugurated out of her role as artist and mother in the 70s. After the birth of her first child in 1968, Ukeles believes that her public identity as an artist slipped into second place, because of the public perceived understanding of the role of a mother.[6]

Manifesto For Maintenance Art 1969!

Initially written as a proposal for an exhibition entitled 'Care', the Manifesto For Maintenance Art emphasises maintenance - keeping things clean, working and cared for– as a creative strategy. The manifesto is formed of two parts. In part I, under the rubric 'Ideas' she makes a distinction between the two basic systems of 'Development' and 'Maintenance', where the former is associated with 'pure individual creation', 'the new', 'change' and the latter is tasked with 'keep the dust off the pure individual creation, preserve the new, sustain the change'. She asks, "after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?".[7] This contrasts with the modernist tradition in which the originality of an artist is foregrounded and the mundane material reality of an artist's everyday life is disregarded.[8] “Avant-garde art, which claims utter development, is infected by strains of maintenance ideas, maintenance activities, and maintenance materials…”

The second part describes her proposal for the exhibition and is made up of three parts A) Part One: Personal, B) Part Two: General and C) Part Three: Earth Maintenance. She begins with the statement “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 [...] MY WORKING WILL BE THE WORK”[9]

Touch Sanitation (1977-80)

Touch Sanitation is one of Ukeles’ most ambitious early projects and a milestone in the history of performance art.[10] Taking almost a year, Ukeles met over 8500 employees of the New York Sanitation Department, shaking hands with each of them and saying, “Thank you for keeping New York City alive”.[11] She documented her activities on a map, meticulously recording her conversations with the workers. Ukeles documented the workers' private stories in an attempt to change some of the negative words used in the public sphere of society, using her art as an agent of change to challenge conventional stereotypes.[12]


  • Manifesto For Maintenance Art 1969! Proposal for an Exhibition "CARE" (1969) - a proposal for an exhibition to display maintenance work as contemporary art,[2] which was published in Artforum in 1971. Ukeles then participated in Lucy Lippard's traveling exhibition of conceptual female artists c. 7,500 (1973–74) and fourteen other exhibitions and interventions in museums followed, including in the Wadsworth Atheneum.[13]
  • Maintenance Art Tasks (1973) - a photograph collection of household activities performed by Laderman Ukeles and her husband, with 12 to 90 images per activity.[14]
  • Maintenance Art Tasks performances at the Wadsworth Atheneum, 1973 - During the course of 1973, Laderman performed The Keeping of the Keys (July 20, 1973), Transfer: The Maintenance of the Art Object: Mummy Maintenance: With the Maintenance Man, The Maintenance Artist, and the Museum Conservator (July 20, 1973), Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Inside and Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside (July 23, 1973) at the Wadsworth Atheneum[15]
  • Hartford Wash: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside (1973)
  • Hartford Wash: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Inside (1973)
  • Touch Sanitation (1978-80)
  • The Work Ballets, seven ballets for large-machinery that took place intermittently between 1983 and 2013 in Rotterdam, New York City, Givors, Pittsburgh and Echigo-Tsumari. They are the subject of Ukeles' first monograph published by Sternberg Press in 2015 and edited by Kari Conte.


  • "A Journey: Earth/City/Flow." Art Journal (Summer 1992): 12-14.
  • "Maintenance Art Activity (1973)." Documents 10 (Fall 1977):8.
  • "Manifesto For Maintenace Art 1969! Proposal for an exhibition 'Care'."; Originally published in Jack Burnham. "Problems of Criticism." Artforum (January 1971) 41; reprinted in Lucy Lippard. Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object. New York:New York University Press, 1979: 220-221.
  • "Sanitation Manifesto! (1984)." The Act 2, no.1, (1990): 84-85.
  • Ukeles, Mierle Laderman and Alexandra Schwartz. "Mierle Laderman Ukeles in conversation with Alexandra Schwartz." in Butler, Cornelia et al.From Conceptualism to Feminism: Lucy Lippard's Numbers Shows 1969-1974 London: Afterall, 2012.


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b c "Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969." Feldman Gallery. Retrieved on 2014-02-02.
  3. ^ Jon Bird, Michael Newman, Rewriting Conceptual Art, Reaktion Books, 1999, p114-5. ISBN 1-86189-052-4
  4. ^ Trash Talk: The Department of Sanitation’s Artist in Residence Is a Real Survivor | Gallerist. Retrieved on 2014-02-02.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Knight, Sarah (2013) "Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art Works 1969–1980 Exhibition Guide" Arnolfini, Bristol
  9. ^
  10. ^ Knight, Sarah (2013) "Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art Works 1969–1980 Exhibition Guide" Arnolfini, Bristol
  11. ^ Ukeles, Mierle Laderman. "Interview." Coordinated by Erin Salazer, Bronx Museum TCG (Spring/Summer 2006).
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Jason Waite, "House of Invisible Cards" in Maintenance Required exhibition catalog for exhibition "Maintenance Required" at The Kitchen, 512 W 19th St, New York, NY, May 30-June 22, 2013. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2013: 56.
  15. ^ Copy of Mierle Laderman Ukeles resume by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Gallery. Brooklyn Museum.

Further reading

  • Buckberrough, Sherry, and Andrea Miller-Keller. Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Matrix 137. (exhibition catalogue) Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1998.
  • Jackson, Shannon. "High Maintenance: The Sanitation Aesthetics of Mierle Laderman Ukeles." In Social Works: performing art, supporting publics, 75-103. New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • Knaup, Bettina and Stammer, Beatrice Ellen. "Labour of Love and Care". In re.act feminism #2 - a performing archive Live Art Development Agency 2013.
  • Kwon, Miwon. "In Appreciation of Invisible Work: Mierle Laderman Ukeles and the Maintenance of the 'White Cube'." Documents 10, (Fall 1997):15-18.
  • Molesworth, Helen. “Cleaning Up in the 1970s: The Work of Judy Chicago, May Kelly and Mierle Laderman Ukeles,” in Rewriting Conceptual Art. Ed. Michael Newman and Jon Bird. London: Reaktion, 1999. 107-122.
  • Molesworth, Helen. "House Work and Art Work." October 92, (Spring 2000):71-97.
  • Molesworth, Helen. "Work Stoppages: Mierle Laderman Ukeles' Theory of Labor Value." Documents 10 (Fall 1997): 19-22.
  • Philips, Patricia C., "Maintenance Activity: Creating a Climate for Change." In But is it Art? Nina Felshin, Seattle Bay Press 1995: 165-193.
  • Erin Salazer. "Mierle Laderman Ukeles Interview." Coordinated by Erin Salazer, Bronx Museum TCG (Spring/Summer 2006):14-21.
  • Stiles, Kristine and Selz, Peter (eds) "Maintenance Art Manifesto" and "Sanitation Manifesto!" In Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art University of California Press, 1996: 623-625.
  • Stratford, Helen. "Collective Assemblages, Embodiment and Enunciations." In Recoveries and Reclamations: Advances in Art and Urban Futures vol.2 Daniel Hinchcliffe and Judith Rugg (eds) Intellect 2003: 107-117.

External links

  • Touch Sanitation: Mierle Laderman Ukeles
  • Ecological Restoration: Mierle Ukeles, Flow City
  • 2009 Art In American interview
  • (2000)Honor 2000NYC Department of Cultural Affairs website for Ukeles's work
  • Ukeles's site at the Brooklyn Museum

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