Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who in her five-decade-plus career has created a generous and muscular body of work of performances, interventions, and other projects that have dealt swift, sharp blows to the systems and frameworks imposed on art and culture by capitalism. In 1968, after giving birth to her first child, a daughter, she began to divide her attention (happily, it must be noted) between motherhood and her art practice. Rather than see herself, as so many female artists did, as failing the call of the avant-garde, she remapped its margins, recognizing that all her labors — both in the studio and in the home — were efforts made to support and preserve life's forward momentum, its future. ("Mark [Rothko] didn't change diapers," she once quipped.) The following year, Ukeles wrote one of the great texts on art and labor, Manifesto! Maintenance Art: Proposal for an Exhibition "Care," in which she argued that maintenance work — the largely unseen labor that's neither flashy nor fun nor well paid — is necessary, and therefore should be made visible and considered vital. "After the revolution," she offered by way of example, "who's going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?" For her groundbreaking "I Make Maintenance Art One Hour Every Day," she photographed three hundred office maintenance workers, asking them to think of their work as art for one hour of a day. This led to Ukeles becoming the first and only artist-in-residence for New York's Department of Sanitation, an unpaid position she still holds today. With the Queens Museum's "Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art," Ukeles gets her very first (and long-overdue) retrospective, one that — in the artist's own words — promises to "keep the contemporaryartmuseum groovy keep the homefires burning."
Few artists are as right on as