Adrian Margaret Smith Piper (b. 1948) is a first-generation Conceptual artist and analytic philosopher. She attended the New Lincoln School throughout grammar school and high school, and the Art Students’ League during high school. She began exhibiting her artwork internationally at the age of twenty, and graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1969. While continuing to produce and exhibit her artwork, she received a B.A. in Philosophy with a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Musicology from the City College of New York in 1974 and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1981 under the supervision of John Rawls; and studied Kant and Hegel with Dieter Henrich at the University of Heidelberg in 1977-1978. Her formal education lasted a total of 27 years.

Adrian taught philosophy at Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, and UCSD. Following in the steps of trailblazing pioneer Dr. Joyce Mitchell Cook, in 1987 she became the first tenured African American woman professor in the field of philosophy. For her refusal to return to the United States while listed as a Suspicious Traveler on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Watch List, Wellesley College forcibly terminated her tenured full professorship in philosophy in 2008. In 2011 she was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus by the American Philosophical Association.

Adrian’s principal philosophical publications are in metaethics, Kant, and the history of ethics. Her two-volume study in Kantian metaethics, Rationality and the Structure of the Self, Volume I: The Humean Conception and Rationality and the Structure of the Self, Volume II: A Kantian Conception, was accepted for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2008 and has been available since then as an open access e-book at This work critically surveys the major moral theories of the late 20th century, develops a Kantian metaethical theory anchored in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and integrates standard decision theory into classical predicate logic. Her third book, Kant’s Metaethics: First Critique Foundations, is nearing completion.
Adrian introduced issues of race and gender into the vocabulary of Conceptual art and explicit political content into Minimalism. In 2000 she further expanded the vocabulary of Conceptual art to include Vedic philosophical imagery and concepts. Her artwork is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Centre Pompidou, and the Generali Foundation, Vienna, among others. Her sixth traveling retrospective, Adrian Piper since 1965, closed at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona in 2004. Her In the Margins Behind the Lines: Collected Writings, a series of e-book volumes, is forthcoming from the APRA Foundation Berlin.

Adrian has been a Non-Resident Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University since 1994 and was a Scholar at the Getty Research Institute in 1998-1999. She has been awarded Guggenheim, AVA, NEA, NEH, Andrew Mellon, Woodrow Wilson, Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften, and Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin Institute for Advanced Study Research Fellowships, as well as the Skowhegan Medal for Sculptural Installation and the New York Dance & Performance Award (the Bessie) for Installation & New Media. In 2012 she received the College Art Association Artist Award for a Distinguished Body of Work, for having “since the late 1960s, … profoundly influenced the language and form of Conceptual art;” and in 2014, a Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award.

Adrian began her study and practice of yoga in 1965 with the Upanishads and Swami Vishnudevananda’s Complete Book of Yoga. She studied with Swami Satchidananda from 1966, became a svanistha in 1971 and a brahmacharin in 1985. Since then she has studied at Kripalu with Gitanand and with Arthur Kilmurray, Patricia Walden, Chuck Miller, Erich Schiffmann, Leslie Bogart, Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, David Swenson, Gary Kraftsow, Georg Feuerstein, David Frawley, and John Friend. In 2012, on her 64th birthday, Adrian Piper retired from being black. She lives and works in Berlin, where she runs the APRA Foundation Berlin and edits The Berlin Journal of Philosophy.
Adrian Piper in Berlin, 21.08.2006
Photo: Albert Landau