Laurie Anderson, born June 5, 1947, in Wayne, Illinois, U.S.A., is the performance artist, composer, and writer whose work explores a remarkable range of media and subject matter.
Anderson began studying classical violin at five years of age and later performed with the Chicago Youth Symphony. In 1966 she moved to New York City, where she attended Barnard College (B.A., 1969) and Columbia University (M.F.A., 1972). For two years she taught art history at the City University of New York.
One of Anderson’s early performance art pieces was Automotive (1972), for which she orchestrated car horns at the Town Green in Rochester, Vermont. In Duets on Ice, another early piece, Anderson wore ice skates frozen in blocks of ice; she then proceeded to play a duet with herself on an altered violin that she described as like a “ventriloquist’s dummy”—she replaced the bow hair with prerecorded audiotape and the strings with a tape head. The piece ended as soon as the ice melted.
The Aristipposian Poet
The Life You Give: Laurie Anderson
in celebration of her life in music
June 5 at 1pm EST
To support her work in performance art, Anderson worked as a freelance interviewer and art critic for ARTnews and Artforum. By 1974 she had received several grants that gave her more freedom to pursue her artistic explorations. She came to rely on a driving rock beat as a backdrop to many of her word-oriented pieces; this led to a musical single, “It’s Not the Bullet That Kills You—It’s the Hole” (1977). Another song, the eight-minute “O Superman” (1981), reached the number two spot on England’s pop charts. She released the recordings You’re the Guy I Want to Share My Money With (1981), Big Science (1982), and Mister Heartbreak (1984) before producing a massive four-part multimedia extravaganza, United States I–IV. It combined music, photography, film, drawings, and animation with text and consisted of 78 segments organized into four sections: Transportation, Politics, Money, and Love. First performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1983, it ran for more than six hours and employed more than 1,200 photos, cartoons, and films. She used some of the same material again in writing, directing, and performing in the film Home of the Brave (1986). Anderson collaborated on Set and Reset (1983) with visual artist Robert Rauschenberg and choreographer Trisha Brown, whose dance company premiered the piece. Anderson’s later recordings included Strange Angels (1989), Bright Red (1994), and The Ugly One with the Jewels and Other Stories (1995).
In 1994 a book of her work was published entitled Stories from the Nerve Bible: A Retrospective, 1972–92. A year later Anderson embarked on a multimedia tour entitled The Nerve Bible, in which she read excerpts from the retrospective book and incorporated elements of music, comedy, illusion, dance, film, songs, and a simulated tornado into her performance. In 1995 she crafted, with designer Hsin-Chien Huang, the highly complex interactive CD-ROM Puppet Motel (1995). Anderson next toured in 1999 with Songs and Stories from Moby Dick, a multimedia musical event. She later served as NASA’s artist in residence (2002–04), and the experience inspired her one-woman show The End of the Moon, which debuted in 2004.
Anderson’s other projects included The Waters Reglitterized (2005), an installation inspired by her dreams, and the albums Life on a String (2001) and Homeland (2010). In 2018 her collaboration with the Kronos Quartet on Landfall, inspired by Hurricane Sandy, won a Grammy Award for best chamber music/small ensemble performance. In addition, Anderson collaborated on the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Her visual work was frequently exhibited in solo shows, including “Laurie Anderson: The Weather” (2021) at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, Anderson was in a relationship with musician Lou Reed; they were married from 2008 until his death in 2013.