After the Associated Press and various other outlets called a win in the U.S. Presidential election for Joe Biden on Saturday, many members of the art world rejoiced—including artist Lorraine O’Grady, whose work was a key inspiration for a video put out by Biden and Kamala Harris’s campaign thanking voters this past weekend.
In the video, shots of people of various races holding empty picture frames are shown as a version of “America the Beautiful” plays. These images are a reference to O’Grady’s Art Is…, which was first staged in New York’s Harlem neighborhood in 1983 and is now celebrated as a seminal work in the history of performance art. (The work was also seemingly referenced by actress Tracee Ellis Ross at the 2019 Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala.)
O’Grady’s work involved bringing gold picture frames to that year’s African-American Day Parade and having attendees pose inside it. Fifteen performers wearing white helped stage the work, which is now remembered primarily through photographs documenting the event. In those pictures, Harlem residents and participants within the parade enact jaunty poses inside the frames.
The artist, whose work will be the subject of a Brooklyn Museum retrospective in 2021, has said she made Art Is… to counteract the idea that avant-garde art had little to do with the Black community. Working within a lineage seeded by Marcel Duchamp and many more, O’Grady showed that the boundary between art and life was thin and could effectively be elided by bringing her practice outside the confines of institutional spaces.
On Instagram, New York’s Alexander Gray Associates, which represents O’Grady, said that the Biden-Harris campaign had spoke with the artist and the gallery before releasing the video. O’Grady said in a statement, “I gave to them and they gave to me.”
See the Biden-Harris campaign’s video below.