The Dropout Piece

Lee Lozano was among the most celebrated conceptual artists of the 1960s. So why is she buried in an unmarked grave in Grand Prairie?

Even by graveyard standards, the Southland Memorial Park in Grand Prairie is a desolate place, littered with decaying tree branches and beer cans and stray dogs that piss on tombstones. On this clear, crisp November morning, the sun seems to shine around the cemetery without ever making it through the gates. The sound of a new roof being laid upon a home nearby only adds to the surreal setting -- the constant bap-bap-bapbapbap-bap of the nail gun, the voices of workers that rise and fall. This is where death comes to die.

Dallas County uses this cemetery to dump its discarded, its unwanted and unclaimed. It's where the homeless are buried without headstones to mark their final resting places. God help the poor soul looking for the departed here without the aid of the gravedigger, whose only map consists of three rows of squares inscribed on a manila folder. Inside each square is the name of the dead and the date of burial. The gravedigger points to one: "Knaster 10/5/99."

"This is the head," says the groundskeeper, who introduces himself as Jose. He holds the map and a tape measure, pointing to the spot in the ground -- or so he guesses -- where the woman once known as Lenore Knaster was buried on October 5. He points again. "And this is the feet."

About two dozen bodies lie beneath this mound of black dirt, none identified beyond the squares on the map. Only a few feet away is a house, its limp gray wooden fence the only separation between the living and the dead. A sulking brown dog in a back yard stands guard over Lenore Knaster, barking whenever anyone approaches her grave.

Surely, the woman buried beneath this loose dirt is the only person in Southland Memorial Park to have received an obituary in The New York Times. She is most likely the only person in this cemetery to have been feted in New York during the 1960s, when she ranked among the world's most celebrated and confounding conceptual artists, garnering rave reviews in such publications as Art News and Artforum.

But none of that matters now. Not when someone can only guess where you're buried.

Trying to locate Lenore Knaster in death is as difficult as trying to piece together her life, especially the last 27 years of it -- when Knaster, then known by her married name, Lee Lozano, abandoned New York City for parts unknown and finally settled in Dallas.

Lenore Knaster -- or Lee Lozano, or simply E, or whatever one chooses to call the woman who wanted no part of any of these names -- did not quite disappear. Too many vestigial traces remain to describe her existence in such dramatic terms. If nothing else, there are the court documents, the medical records, and the letters to lawyers that prove she did indeed walk among us, even if hers were tiny steps that have since washed away.

There is, of course, her art -- the drawings and the paintings, the journal entries, the private diaries meant to be read by no one. During the 1960s, she showed in the most prestigious of New York's galleries and museums, until one day she decided she wanted nothing more to do with the commodification of her work. Her writings became her work; soon enough, her life became her art, around the time she decided to stop talking to women and opted to leave behind the world that once embraced her. Even now, nearly an entire decade of her life remains unaccounted for.

Only within recent years has the art world welcomed her back into its good graces -- without Knaster present to explain herself. She was long gone by then, ensconced in Dallas apartments and hospitals and nursing homes, with only her dope and the occasional boyfriend to keep her company. And, perhaps, a madness that would go undiagnosed by doctors but not unnoticed by anyone who came in contact with her.

Even in life, Knaster was a ghost, haunting her poor, tormented parents until the final moments of their own lives. Her cousin Mark Kramer refers to her as "The Ghost of Greenville Avenue," since she often could be found wandering that Dallas street, where those who came across her thought she was nothing but a lost, lonely homeless woman.

How, then, to answer the most inexplicable question of all: Why is this woman, once a colleague and confidant of some of the modern art world's most prestigious names, buried 68 years after her birth in a Grand Prairie cemetery where not even angels could find her? Not even those who knew her best -- which is to say, hardly at all -- can explain that mystery.

"She disappeared and died many, many years ago, as far as the art world is concerned," says Jaap van Liere, a New York City-based dealer who began representing Knaster in the early 1980s. "She was extraordinarily private and impossible to pin down. There are 10 years of her life I don't know anything about. It's hopeless. I spent 10 years working with her, and there is still so much I don't know. And I don't know who does."

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