An Artist’s Ode to New York City Sanitation Workers

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Vuilniswagendans (City Machine Dance), May 15, 1985. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

As the New York City Department of Sanitation’s official artist-in-residence, Mierle Laderman Ukeles has challenged perceptions of labor and the city’s workers for over 30 years. She began her work long before designer Heron Preston’s sanitation-uniform show this Fashion Week, documenting a range of labor practices from everyday domestic chores to blue-collar public-service jobs.

In subversive performances, unusual installations, and mixed-media works (like trash-dump sculptures), Ukeles often explores cultural status and female identity. A new exhibit opening this Sunday at the Queens Museum showcases her oeuvre, which spans over 50 years. It accompanies the book Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art, published by Prestel earlier this month.

Click ahead to see photographs from the book and Ukeles’s various works, including street sweepers as performance art.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Sanitation Celebrations: Grand Finale of the First NYC Art Parade, Part I: The Social Mirror, 1983. Created in collaboration with DSNY.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Vuilniswagendans (City Machine Dance), May 15, 1985. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. Photo: Jannes Linder.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Sanitation Celebrations: Grand Finale of the First NYC Art Parade, Part III: Ceremonial Sweep, 1983. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, photo: Paula Court.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. Photo: Marcia Bricker.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. Photo: Robin Holland.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

NYC Triumphal Maintenance Arch: Glove Arch Honoring Sanitation Workers in Memory of John DeLury, 1983. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Inside, July 23, 1973. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Inside, July 23, 1973. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. Photo: Marcia Bricker.

An Artist’s Ode to New York City Sanitation Workers