Adrian Piper in Berlin, 21.08.2006
Photo Credit: Albert Landau

Adrian Margaret Smith Piper (b. 1948) is a first-generation Conceptual artist and analytic philosopher. She attended the New Lincoln School throughout grammar school and high school, and the Art Students’ League during high school. She began exhibiting her artwork internationally at the age of twenty, and graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1969. While continuing to produce and exhibit her artwork, she received a B.A. in Philosophy with a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Musicology from the City College of New York in 1974 and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1981 under the supervision of John Rawls. She studied Kant and Hegel with Dieter Henrich at the University of Heidelberg in 1977-1978.

Adrian Piper produces artwork in a variety of traditional and nontraditional media, including photo-text collage, drawing on pre- printed paper, video installation, site-specific sculptural installation, digital imagery, performance and sound works. Piper’s works locate the viewer in a direct, unmediated and indexical relation to the concrete specificity of the object of awareness. They consistently explore the nature of subjecthood and agency, the limits of the self, and the continuities and discontinuities of individual identity in the metaphysical, social and political contexts. In 1968 Piper’s Parallel Grid Proposal for Dugway Proving Grounds introduced explicit political content into Minimalism. In 1970-73, her Catalysis and Mythic Being series introduced issues of race and gender into the vocabulary of Conceptual art. In 2000 her Color Wheel Series introduced Vedic philosophical concepts into political art. Her mixed media installation + participatory group performance, The Probable Trust Registry (2013-15), won the Golden Lion Award for Best Artist in the 56th Venice Biennale 2015 .

For her artwork Piper has also received Guggenheim, AVA, and NEA Fellowships, as well as the Skowhegan Medal for Sculptural Installation and the New York Dance & Performance Award (the Bessies) for Installation & New Media. She received the 2012 College Art Association Artist Award for a Distinguished Body of Work, for having “since the late 1960s, … profoundly influenced the language and form of Conceptual art;” and in 2014, a Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2018 she became the first American to be honored by Germany’s Kaethe Kollwitz prize, and was elected to membership in the Akademie der Künste. In 2021, she was the winner of the Goslarer Kaiserring and was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2023 she was the recipient of the Harvard Arts Medal.

Piper’s artwork is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Pompidou, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Generali Foundation, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles, and the Museum Ludwig, among others. From March to July of 2018, her seventh traveling retrospective, Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions 1965-2016 , was hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York , the largest retrospective ever for a living artist. It was dubbed “the most important exhibition of the year” by ARTNews. Her eighth retrospective (and first European retrospective in over twenty years), RACE TRAITOR, opened at PAC Milan in March 2024.

Her essays in art and art theory, collected in the two-volume Out of Order, Out of Sight: Selected Essays in Meta-Art and Art Criticism (MIT Press,1996), have remained continuously in print. Her In the Margins Behind the Lines: Collected Writings, a series of print volumes of her essays in both art and philosophy from 1967 to the present, is forthcoming from the Adrian Piper Foundations. Her Escape to Berlin: A Travel Memoir/ Flucht nach Berlin: Eine Reiseerinnerung (2018), has been praised as “brilliant and harrowing.”

Piper taught philosophy at Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, and UCSD. At Georgetown in 1987, she became the first tenured African American woman professor in the field of philosophy, following in the steps of trailblazing pioneer Dr. Joyce Mitchell Cook , For her refusal to return to the United States while listed as a Suspicious Traveler on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Watch List, Wellesley College forcibly terminated her tenured full professorship in philosophy in 2008. In 2011 she was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus by the American Philosophical Association. In 2012 Piper publicly retired from being black .

Adrian’s principal philosophical publications are in metaethics, Kant, and the history of ethics. Her two-volume study in Kantian metaethics, Rationality and the Structure of the Self, Volume I: The Humean Conception and Rationality and the Structure of the Self, Volume II: A Kantian Conception , was accepted for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2008 (2nd Edition 2013). It has been available since then as an open access e-book at the APRA website . This work critically surveys the major moral theories of the late 20th century, develops a Kantian metaethical theory anchored in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason , and integrates standard decision theory into classical predicate logic. It has been praised by anonymous peer reviewers as “groundbreaking,” “very powerful,” “original and important,” “brilliant,” “indispensable,” “a blockbuster,” and “a highly significant contribution.” Her third book, Kant’s Metaethics: First Critique Foundations of His Theory of Action , is nearing completion.

For her work in philosophy Piper has been awarded NEH, Andrew Mellon, Woodrow Wilson, Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften, and Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin Institute for Advanced Study Research Fellowships. She has been a Non- Resident Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University since 1996, and was a Scholar at the Getty Research Institute in 1998-1999.

Adrian Piper began her study and practice of yoga in 1965 with the Upanishads and Swami Vishnudevananda’s Complete Book of Yoga. She studied with Swami Satchidananda from 1966, became a svanistha in 1971 and a brahmacharin in 1985. Since then she has studied at Kripalu with Gitanand, and with Arthur Kilmurray, Patricia Walden, Chuck Miller, Erich Schiffmann, Leslie Bogart, Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, David Swenson, Gary Kraftsow, Georg Feuerstein, David Frawley, and John Friend. Since 2005 she has lived and worked in Berlin, where she established the APRA Foundations and edits The Berlin Journal of Philosophy annual Philosophy Journal Paper Submission Policies survey.