Liza Lou’s art making process seems a bit obsessive, to say the least. She first came on the art radar when she exhibited Kitchen (1991-96), at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. A 168 sq. ft. beaded “kitchen” that took five years to create and incorporated 30 million beads, Lou created the ultimate homage to the domestic. The space contained beaded walls, tables, cereal boxes, etc. –everything created from glass beads.
In 2002, at age 32, Lou was awarded the MacArthur “genius” award. In 2005 she founded a collective with Zulu artisans in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Although she doesn’t incorporate specifically African beadwork tradition, she finds within it a commonality in the process of working with beads. Creating her works becomes a kind of meditation—the final products representing the impossibility of perfection—something Lou refers to as “the culpability of craft.”
Much less showy and, if not for the same medium, actually completely different, I am actually more drawn to Lou’s recent works. Minimalist and hauntingly beautiful, they appear to be Agnes Martin’s, or Ellsworth Kelly’s re-imagined as beaded canvases. And because of the beads there is a delicate, feminine sensibility to them. They walk the line between fine art and craft without needing to be one or the other. With them, Lou has fully embraced her method as meditation, placing process over content (although the final products are still pretty wonderful).