Eugenia Perpetua Butler (January 30, 1947 – March 29, 2008) was a Los Angeles-based conceptual artist whose language-based works challenged perceptions of reality and space. Her mother was the gallerist Eugenia Butler Sr., whose roster included Allen Ruppersberg, William Leavitt, Eric Orr, John Baldessari, James Lee Byars, Ed Kienholz and Dieter Roth, as well as her daughter, who cited the conversations around her family's Hancock Park kitchen table as a profound influence on her life and work. In 1993 she hosted a series of televised conversations called "The Kitchen Table" at the Art/LA93 art fair. She is best known for the "Book of Lies" project, started in 1991 and celebrated with a traveling exhibition that was installed at the 18th Street Art Gallery in Santa Monica in 2007. Three of four planned volumes were completed before her death in 2008.
Eugenia Louise Jefferson was born in Bakersfield, California and raised in Los Angeles, California. She was a nurse sergeant for the Marines during World War II. She met her husband James G. Butler, a fighter pilot, during the war. They had eight children together. Butler was an artist, an L.A. art dealer, a collector and the owner of the Eugenia Butler Gallery. In 1971, Butler was diagnosed with breast cancer. She received a mastectomy and later staged a wake at her home to partake in a performance funeral. In 1972, Butler began an affair with the artist, Paul Cotton. She left her family behind and moved to San Francisco with him.
Butler's main focus for her gallery was on conceptual art consisting of mostly dematerialized and non-object oriented work. She was an early champion of conceptual art, developing the hallmarks of space, interaction and performance. During a period unfamiliar with non-object oriented art, Butler validated the development of conceptual art and made L.A. the center for its progress.
In the mid-1960s, Butler served on the New Talent Award Committee and on LACMA'S Contemporary Art Council. Her involvement with the contemporary art scene introduced her to many young artists and she soon became an avid art collector. During one of Butler's trips to Europe, she became familiar with the Genoa-based artist collective Galleria del Deposito. In 1966, Butler became an L.A. representative for the Galleria del Deposito. In 1968, Butler partnered with the gallerist Riko Mizuno, who owned Gallery 669 in Los Angeles. Mizuno recalls Butler's enthusiasm and energy: "She's very active, alive. I never met a person like that, so much energy." At Gallery 669, Mizuno and Butler hosted a series of large exhibitions, featuring Ed Kienholz, Richard Jackson and Joseph Kosuth. Due to personal conflicts, the pair eventually ended their gallery business together. A year later, Eugenia Butler opened up The Eugenia Butler Gallery. Her gallery displayed conceptual art, featuring artists such as John Baldessari, Joseph Kosuth, Allen Ruppersberg, and Richard Jackson. In 1971, the Eugenia Butler Gallery closed due to lack of financial support.
Her first solo show exhibited Allen Rupperberg's "Location Piece." The same year, she presented Eric Orr's show "Wall Shadow." Orr built a small brick wall in front of the gallery and then painted the shadow it made on the concrete. He then removed the wall, only leaving the painted shadow. Butler was prolific in challenging social and cultural boundaries. In one of her most famous exhibitions of Ed Kienholz's show "Watercolor," the artist's work was a framed, hand-printed paper with the monetary amount Kienholz wanted in exchange. Each piece was identical in size, frame, and Kienholz's thumbprint as authorization. The only variant was the price. The 2012 LAND exhibition addressed and confronted Butler's exhibition "as early acknowledgement on the cult of celebrity and the commodification of art."
Butler was also an art dealer. In 1970, she sold four works of Douglas Huebler's photographic documentation. During this year, she also sold a photograph by John Baldessari.
Butler's most notorious conceptual art work, The Kitchen Table Talk was displayed at the L.A. art fair in 1993. Her project consisted of eight talks throughout the period of four days with twenty-seven different artists, whom Butler admired. These hosted televised conversations were being broadcast live during the art fair for viewers to watch. Butler's project displayed the ability to create both a personal, private space within a public space. She presented the dynamic of social transactions in art and compelled her viewers to further investigate the discourse, which ranges from racism and power struggles to how sexual energy is productive or not for creativity. Moreover, Butler played with the concepts of witnessing and participating, as onlookers could only witness, but not participate in the conversation. Butler displayed the different perceptions viewers would have as passive witnesses in comparison to the active participator.