Liza Lou (American, b.1969) is a Conceptual artist whose work is typically done in unlikely mediums, such as beads. Lou was born in New York, NY, to Bohemian turned born-again Christian parents. As a child, she moved to Minneapolis, MN, and grew up watching exorcisms and speaking in tongues.
On a summer trip in 1989 to view the cathedrals of Florence and Venice, Italy, she became enthralled with the mosaic artwork that adorned the walls and ceilings of the churches. While attending the San Francisco Art Institute in California, Lou walked into a bead store and found herself far more interested in beads than paint. She began incorporating beads into her artwork, much to the chagrin of her teachers and classmates. Lou eventually left the Art Institute and began to work on what is known as her breakout piece, Kitchen (1995). The piece is a 168 square foot replica of a complete kitchen covered in beads. Lou hoped to take something mundane and boring, such as a kitchen, and transform it into something beautiful to rejoice over. The work was noticed by Marcia Tucker (American, 1940–2006), the director of the New Museum in New York, and she invited Lou to show her work in 1996. The sale of Kitchen enabled Lou to complete her second major piece, Backyard, in 1996. In this work, Lou used her unconventional medium as a way to make a painting touchable, as if one could step into it. The piece is a 525 square foot replica of a backyard created with multitudes of beads.
In the 21st-century, Lou's work has taken a decidedly political turn, and she has dabbled in Performance Art. Liza Lou was awarded the MacArthur "genius" fellowship in 2002. One of her most popular pieces was a performance piece entitled Born Again, in which she recreates a series of moments from a fundamentalist Christian childhood. At one point, she plays a six year old who has been abused by her father. Lou began to work on the piece in 2001, and it was first performed at Les Deux Cafes in Los Angeles, CA. She has since included a video version in many of her shows. Lou currently works and resides in both Los Angeles, CA, and KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In South Africa, she works alongside 30 members of a Zulu tribe on her pieces. Her works can be found in several museums, including The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, NY, the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, OH, and the Honart Museum in Tehran, Iran. Lou's work also appears in several books, catalogues, and galleries.