BAHM: 2.19.17 Lorna Simpson
Lorna Simpson is a New York based artist working in photography, video and multimedia. She was born in Brooklyn in 1960 and attended the School of Visual Art, New York, where she earned her BFA in Photography. In 1985 she earned her MFA from UC San Diego, and was, at the time, already gaining recognition for her groundbreaking use of text and photography. She rose to prominence in the 1980s and 90’s with works such as, Guarded Conditions (1989) and Square Deal (1990) that combine portraiture, text and installation to articulate complexities of gender, race and identity and memory. In 1990, Simpson became the first black woman to participate in the Venice Biennale and had a solo show that traveled to several major museums, including New York MOMA. In 2007, her first mid-career survey show was exhibited at the Whitney. January of this year marked the end of an exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, featuring new silkscreened paintings.
Simpson’s early work developed a distinct language of photographic presentation, working in series of images presented together, with slight variations in detail, exposure or pose. These images are accompanied by text, mimicking this repetition in lists of descriptors that conjure a multitude of expressions and experiences. Several layers of meaning result in what is at once a physical description of the image, indication of trauma or violence directed towards the body and, often, a defiance or autonomy in the subject. Anonymity is a recurring theme in these portraits, with the subject either actively denying the viewer by turning away, compositionally with the subjects cut off at the head, in the focusing in on a particular aspect of the body, be it hair, mouth collar bone, or the repetition of found photographs. Later pieces, starting in 2009, present carefully curated arrangements of vintage found photographs that speak to the visual language of her early works, but perhaps achieves a universalizing effect in a more complete way. They feel undeniably personal, historical and cohesive, their visual language laying bare our own conventions of identity construction.