Broadening the horizons of contemporary photographic practice, Lorna Simpson’s work spans a variety of media and addresses issues ranging from racial and sexual identity to conceptions of the body to history and memory. The Walker Art Center exhibition
Recollection: Lorna Simpson
, opening at 5 pm Thursday, March 25, features eight major pieces, including early works on paper and felt, a film commissioned in 1998, and new acquisitions on view for the first time. The Walker has been steadily collecting Simpson’s work since 1991. The exhibition runs through July 18, 2010.
Trained at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Brooklyn-based Simpson received her MA in 1985 from the University of California, San Diego, where she studied film and fine arts. She began her career as a documentary photographer but soon found herself more interested in investigating the role of the viewer. Part of a larger movement of feminist-inspired conceptual artists in the 1980s, including Cindy Sherman, Adrian Piper, and Barbara Kruger, who were concerned with the way a photograph is “read,” Simpson began to create compositions pairing minimalist black-and-white images with short texts. Presented with cool detachment and sometimes caustic humor, her images were often grouped to create large-scale tableaux of visual fragments—the human figure, objects, and words—that coalesced into quietly confrontational narratives.
Simpson’s earliest photographs pictured an African American female model in a simple dress, frequently photographed in partial view or from behind. Queensize (1991), a fractured yet powerful narrative surrounding notions of black feminine beauty, juxtaposes images and text, each part occupying a discrete visual space.
In the mid-1990s, Simpson began creating works in which photographic imagery and text were printed on dense felt. The prints in the multipart Wigs (portfolio) (1994) were made by transferring 21 photographic images to felt panels using waterless lithography. A taxonomy of hairstyles in varying lengths, shapes, and textures signifies differences of race, gender, and age, while emphasizing the wig as a masquerading device. The images are juxtaposed with texts, such as “the wig produced the desired effect” and “first impressions are the most lasting,” that underscore the unstable nature of social identities and question cultural assumptions associated with appearance.
Simpson’s early concentration on the figure evolved in the late 1990s into an interest in working with physical space and recognizable human characters, a shift that led her to explore narrative film. Her lush black-and-white films are often manifest as dual or multiple projections, and are intended to be screened in a darkened room within a gallery context. Just as her multi-image photographic tableaux are “built,” so too are the film composites, weaving images and dialogue into compelling, open-ended scenarios. Recollection (1998), her third film, was made during a Walker residency. Shot in the Twin Cities, the project presents what the artist has called a “disjointed, linear narrative” that focuses on characters who attempt to reconstruct past events through memory. In this single-projection installation, Simpson employs a film-within-a-film device, calling into question the parts that are “real” and those that are fictitious. By layering snippets of dialogue, evocative vignettes, and enigmatic characters, the artist suggests that memory is at best selective.
Recently, Simpson has begun appropriating mid-century vernacular photographs, recombining them with staged pictures of her own devising, and assembling them together into large grids. Using snapshots purchased at flea markets or via online auctions, she stages her own reconstructions, casting herself as the unknown subjects depicted therein. The effect is at once charming and uncanny, collapsing identities and histories in thought-provoking ways. Three works from 2009, the recently acquired LA ’57-NY ’09 and 1957–2009 Interior #1, combined for the exhibition to present a grid of 40 gelatin silver prints, along with Please remind me of who I am, which assembles 50 found photo booth portraits and 50 ink drawings on paper, are also featured.
Recollection: Lorna Simpson is organized by the Walker Art Center.
Gallery Hours and Admission
$10 adults; $8 seniors (65+); $6 students/teens (with ID)
Free to Walker members and children ages 12 and under.
Free with a paid ticket to a same-day Walker event.
Free to all every Thursday evening (5–9 pm) and on the first Saturday of each month (10 am–5 pm).
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11 am–5 pm
Thursday 11 am–9 pm