Lorna Simpson is an American artist best known for her pioneering conceptual photography, which challenges historical and persisting misconceptions about gender, race and cultural identity.Read More
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960, Lorna Simpson spent time in Europe and Africa in the late 1970s, where she became acutely aware of documentary photography's limitations and the voyeurism it promoted.
Receiving her BFA at the School of Visual Arts, New York in 1982, followed by an MFA from the University of California in 1985, where she was taught by Allan Kaprow and Eleanor Antin, she devised ways of upending the relationship between image and audience, and the assumed 'truth' supplied by documentary styles. Her photo-text technique emerged, a now characteristic visual layering with text superimposed and placed alongside her photographs. Works like Gestures and Reenactments (1985) question the interrelationship between text and image, scrutinising the forces determining representation.
It is Lorna Simpson's interest in sources of authorship and historical memory that shaped her work throughout the 1980s. With a forensic eye, Simpson picked apart the narrow languages and images used to present African American people, often compiling fragmented photos to suggest depersonalisation and objectification.
During the 1980s, her prominence grew and her reputation for critical examination of American society was cemented. Stereo Styles (1988), one of Lorna Simpson's most notable works, challenged the identities aligned with and projected upon black women and how gender and culture shape life experiences in America. Two rows of images capturing the backs of women's heads with different hairstyles is juxtaposed with single descriptive words, including 'Magnetic' and 'Sweet'.
In 1990, Lorna Simpson became the first African American woman to exhibit at 44th Venice Biennale, and the first African American woman to have work presented in the 'Projects' series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The portraits included in the MoMA show tackled sexuality, desire, and the racism ingrained in photographs by presenting faceless bodies framed with words including 'identify'.
Since then, Lorna Simpson's practice has expanded to include, film, sculpture, painting, collage, and drawing. Her films are stages for surreal conversations, which often mark continuity between characters who might traditionally be considered unrelated.
Her sculptures, like Unanswerable (2018), offset historic images taken from vintage Ebony and Jet magazines with natural landscape photos. The incongruous compositions reflect on the complex and absurd aspects of contemporary American life. As she has said, 'For me, the images hearken back to my childhood, but are also a lens through which to see the past fifty years in American history.'
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, USA (2017); BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK (2014); Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn NY (2011); Walker Art Gallery, Minneapolis (2010); The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007); Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas (1993); Denver Art Museum, Denver CO (1990).
The Naked Truth, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede, The Netherlands (2019); Selections from The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2019); Outliers and American Vanguard Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles CA (2018); We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts MA (2018); What Absence is Made Of, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC (2017); Citizens, Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom (2017); Soulèvements (Uprisings), Jeu de Paume, Paris, France (2016); A History. Art, Architecture, Design from the 80s to Now, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (2014); Auckland Triennial, Public/Private, Auckland, New Zealand (2004).
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In the poem 'Ode to Meaning' by Robert Pinsky, the speaker traverses the sundry terrains in which meaning might be found and sifts through the many guises it might take on. What a reader has to conclude coming to the end of the poem, is that meaning is a fugitive thing, sometimes here, and sometimes there, winking in and out of existence, and...
Mammoth scale paintings of glaciers drenched in nocturnal blues guard Lorna Simpson's Brooklyn Navy Yard studio on a rainy April day. This is the type of blue that permeates the sky at the darkest hour of the night, when above us is so pitch black that the sky resembles a dense blue. The same blue is echoed in Tarell Alvin McCraney's play I_n...
For more than 30 years, Lorna Simpson’s powerful work has explored the nature of representation, identity, gender, race, and history. On the occasion of the artist’s first exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in New York, Simpson was joined by Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, for a conversation about her work...
A conversation between the artist Lorna Simpson and Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, on the occasion of the exhibition Lorna Simpson. Unanswerable, at Hauser & Wirth London, 1 March 2018. Lorna Simpson was born in Brooklyn, where she continues to live and work. Simpson came to prominence...
Lorna Simpson talks to Frieze about her life and work in her Brooklyn studio. Simpson came to prominence in the 1980s through her pioneering approach to conceptual photography, which featured striking juxtapositions of text and staged images and raised questions about the nature of representation, identity, gender, race and history. These concerns...