DONELLE WOOLFORD
A Biography

1980
Born in Detroit, the second of three children to professional parents. Her mother is a natural healer and her father a lawyer

1983
Begins private schooling. She is a bit of a loner, the silent type, but she loves reading and making things with her hands

1986
Family travels to Europe, visiting Paris and Italy

1989
Family moves to Conyers, Georgia, near Atlanta

1991
Develops a strong interest in the arts. Takes classes in woodworking, metalsmithing, glass blowing, ceramics and drawing

1997
While visiting her mother's family in North Carolina, she participates in an Asheville Area Arts Council workshop conducted by influential New York artist Lester Hayes

1999
Begins undergraduate study at Yale and is formally introduced to Western art history and thought

Reads Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man

Begins working as Joe Scanlan's studio assistant, helping to fabricate works and manage his fledgling publishing enterprise, Commerce Books

2001
Takes courses in History, Sociology, and Psychology at Yale

2002
Concentrates on Art History, Studio Art and African-American and Afro-Caribbean courses. Begins to sense that there is more to art than pure thought, expression and reflection, and realizes there are underlying issues of colonialism and politics to what is being taught as the art historical canon. She becomes very interested in how and why her art history courses focus on European and American Art — and even then, people of color are rarely represented. The rest of the world — Asia, Africa, the Arab world, the Americas — falls into the déclassé category of “crafts”. She begins to wonder where she fits in this mélange.

Deduces that there’s a fine line between originality, theft, appropriation and influence, and decides that things can flow both ways. Makes her first ‘Cubist’ painting from wood scraps while working in Mr. Scanlan’s studio

Edits 4166 Sea View Lane: A Reader, an anthology dedicated to Jorge Pardo’s infamous house built as a sculpture under the auspices of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

2003
Helps in a take-over of the president’s office in response to the University‚s insufficient response to attacks on students of color at Yale

Earns a BA in Fine Art, with a concentration in Graphic Design, from Yale University

Rents her first studio in the corner of a lumber reclamation factory in New Haven, Connecticut

2004
Publishes her first article, “I Have A Dream”, in Ante no. 3 (spring)

Participates in her first group show, BUY AMERICAN, at Galerie Chez Valentin, Paris

Moves to Brooklyn, New York, but for practical reasons keeps her studio in New Haven, Connecticut, seventy-five miles away

2006
Participates in her first exhibition in New York, a group show titled Data Mining at Wallspace

Decides it’s good to have a stable income and learn some new skills. After treading water in several graphic design jobs she settles into advertising. The process of creating images for the public to devour intrigues her: cutting and pasting reality to make reality. Or is it to alter it? She feels ambivalent about how much to invest herself in the job, and gladly decides her heart is not in it. She resumes the task in the same spirit as the actors she casts in the advertisements she helps produce. It is one of her greatest performances to date. She continues to make art.

2007
Appears as an actor in her first nationally televised ad campaign during an episode of Deal or No Deal

Stages her first one-person show in Europe at Galerie Chez Valentin, Paris

Participates in her first international biennial in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

2008
Stages her first one-person show in the United States at Wallspace, New York

Moves to Harlem, where she rents a cramped but cheap basement studio in a brownstone in Sugar Hill. The transition from her spacious, sunlit studio in New Haven to her damp, electric-lit dungeon is shocking. She tries to adjust but is losing enthusiasm for her wooden collages and finds herself more and more interested in found images, found fabrics, the internet. She can see the end of the wooden collages not too far off, in the bottom of the last bin of scraps salvaged from the reclamation factory. Several self-reflexive images coalesce out of the scraps: a head of a woman, a foreshortened mirror, a shattered image of Elizabeth Montgomery

As part of the group exhibition Double Agent, she sets up a working studio in a gallery at the ICA, London. To her delight, it is one of the same rooms where Marcel Broodthaers installed Decor in 1975. For seven weeks she works on collages, reads, and interacts with the viewing public

With Mark Sladen, director of the ICA, she attends a reception for Mario Garcia Torres at White Cube

Gives a public lecture on her work as part of Double Agent. In the course of the subsequent question and answer session with Sladen and co-curator Claire Bishop, Donelle reveals that she is a character being portrayed by an actress and is therefore not ‘real’ the conventional sense of an ‘artist’ who makes ‘work’.

Gives a lecture as part of a conference titled La Copia, Lo Falso (y El Original) [The Copy, the Counterfeit (and the Original), sponsored by XV Jornadas de Estudio de La Imagen, Madrid. The backbone of her lecture is an archive of portraits of all the actors who auditioned for the opportunity to portray her. The audience is stunned. So many personality types! How to choose? Donelle admits that she has often asked herself the same question.

Discovers in a review that appears in frieze magazine that her biography is ‘overdetermined’. Although she is not sure what that means exactly, since she knows many people who share part if not all of her story — Black, raised in the south, Ivy-league educated, living in New York — she decides the critic, Melissa Gronfund, is right. The fact that something actually happened, whether it happened once or a thousand times, is no justification for its being integral to a work of fiction. She changes her place of birth from Conyers, Georgia, to Detroit, Michigan, and decides her family moved to Conyers when she was twelve years old. She wonders whether she should continue to live in Harlem. Contemplates moving to Astoria, or Riverdale, or some other less-conspicuous neighborhood. Maybe Tribeca or Grammercy Park. Maybe Williamsburg.

Travels to the Mead Art Gallery of Warwick University, Coventry, where she hosts a Friday night salon and portfolio review as part of Double Agent

Simultaneously travels to The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, where she sets up another working studio as part of Double Agent

Stages her first one-person show in The Netherlands at Galerie de Expeditie, Amsterdam

Sees the Richard Prince retrospective at the Guggenheim

2009
Moves out of her cramped basement studio in Harlem into a spacious top floor in the South Bronx.

Begins research into “dick jokes”, i.e. vernacular American comedy about the penis, and making sketches for how they might be transformed into images

Stages her first public performance, Dan Graham Withdrawal Syndrome, at Wallspace, New York

Mounts a one-person show and performance of Dan Graham Withdrawal Syndrome at The Suburban, Oak Park, Illinois

2010
Performs her interpretation of Dan Grahamís Performer/Audience/Mirror at Princeton University

Mounts Wite Trash at Galerie Martin Janda, Vienna

2011
Begins to wonder why no one has ever challenged Richard Prince in the same way Sherrie Levine challenged Walker Evans. She makes her first “dick joke” painting. Likes that “dick” can be interpreted as both “penis” and “Richard.” Struggles with whether the brush, the brushstroke, and all that phallic baggage should be acknowledged or ignored

Sees Glenn Ligonís mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum. Generally impressed. Of particular interest is a gallery displaying Ligonís timid foray into a series of penis joke paintings in the mid-1990s. She is delighted that, for whatever reason, Ligon abandoned the idea and its potential

Performs Dick’s Jokes, a re-enactment of a comedy routine by Richard Pryor, as part of an evening of extreme appropriation programmed in conjunction with the PRELUDE theatre festival

Performs Dick’s Jokes at the Yale University Art Museum as part of a conference on Duchamp and authenticity

2012
Performs Dick’s Jokes at the Guggenheim Museum as part of Last Call, a performance marathon commemorating Maurizio Cattelanís retirement

Group show and performance of Dan Graham Withdrawal Syndrome at Carlos/Ishikawa, London

After a year of trial and error, she finally figures out the dick joke paintings, how they should look and be made. With two and sometimes three assistants, she goes into serious studio production

Publishes “Dick Jokes” at McNally Jackson, New York

Mounts two one-person gallery shows in Paris simultaneously at Galerie Chez Valentin and Air de Paris

Performs Dick’s Last Stand, an updated version of Dick’s Jokes, at Palais de Tokyo. At forty minutes in length, it is her most ambitious public performance to date

2013
Becomes an independent entity. Although she remains a fictional character, her achievements and body of work have established her as a fully realized, circulating subject with publicly acknowledged attributes