Columbians Ahead of Their Time

"When love is gone, there's always justice.
When justice is gone, there's always force.
When force is gone, there's always Mom.
Hi, Mom!"

Laurie Anderson (1947 - )
Barnard College 1969
School of the Arts 1972
School of the Arts (honorary) 2005

Laurie Anderson has crossed boundaries so effectively that she has become almost an institution of innovation. From breaking into the top 40 pop-charts as a performance artist to serving as the first artist-in-residence at NASA, Anderson consistently engages worldwide audiences with experimental work.

Mass audiences first encountered Anderson's work with "O Superman," 11 eerie minutes of techno-drone and spoken-word riffing that rose to the top of the British pop music charts in the early 1980s. In the decades that followed, Anderson continued to smudge the line between popular and avant-garde performance. She produced accessible albums such as Strange Angels and Mister Heartbreak, a top-100 record featuring rock star Peter Gabriel; she also produced complex performance pieces such as United States I-IV, an eight-hour, live collage of answering machine messages, violin music, and landscape slides set in the structure of classical opera. Whether pop or puzzling, however, Anderson's work is always sharp-witted. As John Rockwell commented in Esquire: "What lifts her texts beyond pop pastiche is her abrupt, glancing intimations of the erotic, the political, and the cosmic. She presents a landscape of the ordinary made extraordinary through unexpected juxtaposition."

Anderson was raised in well-heeled suburbs outside of Chicago. As a child, she played violin in the Chicago Youth Symphony and local chamber music groups. In her late teens, however, Anderson began to dabble in visual, multimedia, and technology-based arts. She moved to New York City to study art at Barnard College, graduating magna cum laude in 1969; she continued her education in art and sculpture at Columbia University's School of the Arts. The University's urban location put Anderson in close proximity to contemporary conceptual art movements, which formed the context of much of her early work. Anderson has remained connected to Columbia, standing to receive an honorary doctorate in 2005 and teaching Master Classes at the School of the Arts in 2006. Anderson also has remained deeply rooted in the New York City art scene, where her wit and playful use of technology continue to surprise.

Read more about Anderson in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

"One of the School's goals is to create an environment that might foster another such genius." -- Bruce W. Ferguson, Dean

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