In his energetic and varied practice, Gary Simmons considers the past's influence on the present and the present's ambivalent relationship with the past. In doing so, he portrays bodies as composites of previous moments' traces, utilising media including painting, sound, and sculpture.Read More
Upon his completion of a BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York, in 1988 and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, in 1990, Gary Simmons returned to New York and began a series of drawings in chalk on slate-covered paper. These drawings formed the groundwork for his 'erasure' works: a still-ongoing investigation in which the artist appropriates and re-examines early 20th-century cartoon characters that caricatured black Americans.
In the large-scale erasure painting Piano Man (2020), the image of a cartoon character playing a piano has been smudged across the canvas in a series of sharp horizontal movements. In a 2020 interview with Ocula Magazine, Simmons observed that 'When you attempt to erase something, there's always a trace left behind.' History does not clean so easily—the artist's act shows that erasure only adds another layer to the subject's past.
Extending his interest in erasure as it pertains to African American history and culture, and the need to fill the gaps created by such erasure, Simmons later began incorporating blurred text into his oeuvre. For the artist's installation Fade to Black, at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles (2017–2019), he painted and subsequently rubbed away the titles of silent films featuring all-African American casts on the walls of the institution's lobby.
As well as painting, Gary Simmons has utilised a number of sculptural media throughout his career. A pivotal early work, 6X (1990), presented six child-size Ku Klux Klan robes on a rack, while Lineup (1993) consisted of eight pairs of gilded basketball shoes placed in front of a wall with police line-up height markings. Such early works honed the artist's interest in the political charge that absent bodies, histories, and stories can still hold in a space.
Gary Simmons garnered significant critical attention in 2014 for his stacked speaker piece Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark. Inspired by Jamaican sound systems, the work was a living sculpture that invited musicians to utilise for performances and leave whatever configuration they had used for those performances. The work's ongoing history offers both a contrasting and complementary approach to the record of the past offered by the artist's erasure series.
Across his more-than-30-year career, Gary Simmons has presented solo exhibitions at many prestigious institutions, including Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; and Kunsthaus Zürich. His artworks are held in the collections of Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Jumex Collection, Mexico City, amongst others.
Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2020
Gary Simmons and Cindy Sherman both signed with the mega gallery after departing Metro Pictures.
New York-born, Los Angeles-based sculptor, installation artist, and painter Gary Simmons retraces, reclaims and reconstructs African-American history.
The California African American Museum is teeming with ghosts. They haunt its lobby atrium, which is airy and still, bleached out from sunlight seeping in through a canopy of skylights onto stark white walls.
Yes! After months and months of speculation, prayers, and rumors, the Venice Biennale has released the artist list for its 56th edition, “All the World’s Futures,” which is being curated by Okwui Enwezor. At a quick glance, it looks like a thrillingly eclectic list, counting among its participants giants like Bruce Nauman, Adrian...