Undermining

A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West

A revelatory exploration of art and the American environment, illustrated in full color, from the award-winning writer and activist

“[Lippard’s] strength lies in the depth of [her] commitment—her dual loyalty to tradition and modernity and her effort to restore the broken connection between the two.”
—Suzi Gablik, The New York Times Book Review

Award-winning author, curator, and activist Lucy R. Lippard is one of America’s most influential writers on contemporary art, a pioneer in the fields of cultural geography, conceptualism, and feminist art. Hailed for “the breadth of her reading and the comprehensiveness with which she considers the things that define place” (The New York Times), Lippard now turns her keen eye to the politics of land use and art in an evolving New West.

Working from her own lived experience in a New Mexico village and inspired by gravel pits in the landscape, Lippard weaves a number of fascinating themes—among them fracking, mining, land art, adobe buildings, ruins, Indian land rights, the Old West, tourism, photography, and water—into a tapestry that illuminates the relationship between culture and the land. From threatened Native American sacred sites to the history of uranium mining, she offers a skeptical examination of the “subterranean economy.”

Featuring more than two hundred gorgeous color images, Undermining is a must-read for anyone eager to explore a new way of understanding the relationship between art and place in a rapidly shifting society.

Praise

“Investigating both the ‘undermining’ of environmental sustainability by capitalist industry and the critical ‘undermining’ of normative approaches to nature by artists, Lucy Lippard offers an insightful model of how to live locally with ecological consciousness, doing so without surrendering to a narrow parochialism or losing sight of social justice imperatives.”
—T.J. Demos, reader, department of art history, University College London
“This is an intensely personal narrative of degraded ecosystems, exhausted lands, and dispirited peoples. Readers will be captivated by Lippard’s gut-wrenching identification with, and her eloquent elucidation of, accumulating hazards and diminishing resources.”
—Linda Weintraub, author of To Life!: Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet and Art on the Edge and Over
“[A] brilliant and penetrating fantasia on land use and exploitation. . . . This singular book will stir the ‘creative energies’ of veteran Lippard fans and environmentalists as well as a new generation of artist-activists.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Lucy Lippard is to land abuse what Linnaeus once was to animals and plants. Undermining is a catalog of dynamite-blasted, bulldozing craziness, with every sub-species named, classed, and on display. It shows you not the Old West or the New West, just the Real West. Read it and weep.”
—William deBuys, author of A Great Aridness
“Lippard weaves a complex narrative that moves through the slow processes of ecology to the blitzkrieg of development and extraction. Thoughtful, poetic, and unflinchingly critical, she also presents a way to consider the value of art in the collaborative fight for a sustainable future.”
—Nato Thompson, chief curator, Creative Time
“Lippard’s timely book extends beyond the discourse of art history and cultural geography. It is a call for action. She guides us on a tour of the American West that is being ravaged by oil and gas interests, damaging both the environment and our collective psyche. Her critique and the numerous artists that she weaves into her narrative visualizes the destruction, as well as presenting alternatives that could direct land use toward a more just and sustainable future.”
—Nicolas Lampert, author of A People’s Art History of the United States
“What you don’t know can hurt you. This is true not just in the case of the slow violence through which various forms of environmental toxins seep into our bones and blood. As Lucy Lippard shows in her brilliantly hybrid book, it is also true of the subterranean spaces where these toxins are often stored and, in many cases, blasted, excavated, generated, and buried. Surveying the land beneath that most iconic of American landscapes, the Southwest, Lippard traces the links between the gravel mined for roads, the coal mined for electricity, and the uranium mined for nuclear weapons in the region, just to name a few of the connections she makes. Lippard brings these hidden economies to light, describes the fight of groups such as the Zuni against the despoliation of the land, and presents striking examples of land use art that is helping to galvanize public opinion against the undermining of the West.”
—Ashley Dawson, professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center
“Lucy Lippard’s Undermining is a brilliant weaving together of the politics of land use in the West and the interventions made by artists into this landscape. Encompassing ancient petroglyphs, the land art of the 1970s, and more recent socially engaged art, and juxtaposing that art with the super-exploitation of the region’s natural resources, Lippard creates a compelling vision of an entire ecosystem under threat.”
—Russell Ferguson, professor, department of art, UCLA
“This is a marvelous slim book full of dirt: the literal dirt and gravel and other materials of the earth, and the unseen, unsung source in that earth of all the building materials of the cities, the cement and concrete, the uranium and oil. Lucy Lippard weaves, as only she can, ideas, facts, images, and histories into a whole about the rawness of raw materials and the ecology of the manmade world.”
—Rebecca Solnit

News and Reviews

The Brooklyn Rail

The Brooklyn Rail's review of Undermining

Artspace

Lucy Lippard discusses Undermining and more in an interview with Artspace magazine

Books by Lucy R. Lippard

On the Beaten Track
Tourism, Art, and Place

Lucy R. Lippard

Mixed Blessings
New Art in a Multicultural America

Lucy R. Lippard

The Lure of the Local
Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society

Lucy R. Lippard

Partial Recall
Photographs of Native North Americans

Lucy R. Lippard