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Lippard, Lucy R. The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New York: The New Press, 1997 (328 pp.). Lippard has long been one of our best and most prolific cultural observers, mostly in the realm of art criticism. The Lure of the Local is a dense and challenging book that begins by exploring the very notion of place – specifically, the "local" – in order to suggest how art can contribute to our understanding of place. For Lippard (and many others) what gives place its meaning are the stories embedded in the land. The goal of art should be to unearth and communicate those stories for residents (more so than tourists); and in the process, artists should involve locals in their research and design. In another book, Off the Beaten Track, she explores in detail the ways tourism relates to place; in this book, she is dismissive of touristic efforts to appropriate place. The book’s opening chapters use photography, performance, literature, and other art to explore place (and placelessness) from different historical, social, and ethnic points of view, with particular attention to Native American interpretations. As someone who lives both in New Mexico and Maine, Lippard is also conscious of the different ways we think about place from East and West perspectives. This section concludes with a wonderful essay on maps, and how these chroniclers of place (whether mental or written) define and manipulate understanding. That leads to a long section on the ways we make meaning – the idea of history and the questions beneath it: Whose history? How is it presented? Where are other voices? Lippard has strong words for most historical societies, which she sees as little more than junky attics attended by "first families." This section includes good and bad examples (in Lippard’s view) of how communities preserve and tell their history in exhibitions, historical markers, roadside attractions, historic buildings, monuments. Her theme is that history is multi-layered and our approach to telling stories should communicate that complexity. Next Lippard includes a long section on land use, which feels borrowed from other texts documenting the ways we have ruined the West, in particular. There’s the usual criticism of mining, ranching, water policy, and, of course, the City vs. Suburbia. Lippard romanticizes about older SoHo in New York, when it was poor artists who then were "invaded" by Yuppies, as if SoHo was the artists’ to begin with. In terms of defining and communicating a sense of place, the final section comes closest to providing materials for communities to work with. This interesting discussion about place-based art surveys the evolution of public art, which Lippard maintains is often not "public" and is more than likely not connected to place. She calls for an art that is not only about place but of place. Lippard is critical of mainstream art (commercialized), art schools (stuck in the 19th-century), and of course our nation’s lack of support for art, especially work that challenges the status quo. In terms of tourism, which she is critical of throughout this book, Lippard believes artists can give meaning to places and help people see them anew. As one might expect from Lippard, her ideas are left-of-center, sometimes anarchistic, but almost always refreshing.


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