Joan Lyons (born 1937) has been making pictures continuously for more than six decades. She has been a fearless innovator in a wide range of historical and contemporary image-making processes, as well as newly invented reproduction technologies of the 1960s–1980s. Lyons embraces chance and uncertainty as opportunities for discovery. She has said, “Every idea, every kind of work needed a different way of making it. And the way of making it suggested new directions for the work as it evolved.”

While Lyons is adept with process and equipment, her starting point is an idea: that the people and everyday objects around us accrue value from our interactions with them. The humble objects she pictures—chairs, plants, a well-used apron—achieve a heightened status as artifacts owned, used, and perceived by humans.

Lyons has forged a unique path with intuitive projects that challenge the authority of the traditional photographic image. From the 1960s through the 1980s, she created a feminist inquiry into the deeply personal and particular as subjects for her art. To this day she continues to investigate the power and conventions of photography, image-making, and representation within Western culture.

This exhibition is the first museum retrospective dedicated to the artist in her home town of Rochester, New York. It features a broad and representative selection of Lyons’ work from all six decades of her career. The exhibition will begin in MAG’s introductory Forman Gallery, which welcomes all visitors to MAG, and will extend into spaces throughout the American galleries on the first floor.

Photograph of Joan Lyons, surrounded by a white and blue border.
Joan Lyons, 2022. Photo by Francois Deschamps.

About the Artist

Since the start of her career, Joan Lyons (b. 1937) has exhibited her art in galleries and museums around the world. It is also in the permanent collections of, for example, the DeCordova Museum; J. Paul Getty Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Minneapolis Institute of Art; National Gallery of Canada; Norton-Simon Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery. In 2007, Lyons had a retrospective exhibition at Rochester Contemporary Art Center, and in 2018, Lyons’ career was featured in a major exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery in New York and Paris.

In addition to her work in photography, Lyons was Founding Director of Rochester’s Visual Studies Workshop Press, which she led from 1972–2004. She was responsible for the production and publication of 450 titles, as well as over 30 editions of her own artist books. She is the editor of the influential Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook (1986, 1988, 1991, 1993), and Artists’ Books: Visual Studies Workshop Press 1972–2008 (2009).


Memorial Art Gallery Endowed Fund Support
Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Fund
Nancy R. Turner Fund for Special Exhibitions