Lorna Simpson: Gathered
In Lorna Simpson’s hands a simple photograph—a personal snapshot found on eBay, for instance—instigates a complex dialogue about the cultural history of the United States. For more than two decades Simpson has challenged viewers to think critically about how they understand images and words. Through her innovative installations of film, video, and photography, Simpson has explored how personal and social histories—specifically African American cultural histories—have been so manipulated by the culture at large that it can be impossible to distinguish fact from fiction. For Simpson, history, memory, and our social mores are intellectual structures that can become dangerous when mistaken for facts.
Artists have long understood that the simple act of placing two images next to each other can lead to a completely new understanding. For the exhibition Lorna Simpson: Gathered, the artist utilizes this formal approach in a number of ways. In the series ’57/’09, presented here in its entirety for the first time, Simpson juxtaposes found images of African Americans with self-portraits mimicking the poses. In another installation, Simpson combines photo-booth portraits from the Jim Crow era (the period of legalized segregation from about 1876 to 1965) with her own ink drawings to create one large, cloudlike formation. In Simpson’s video installation Easy to Remember, fifteen mouths hum the melody of a jazz version of “It’s Easy to Remember,” a popular song written in the 1930s. For Simpson, the process of gathering images of African Americans and utilizing them within the critical framework of her own art making results in a new life for these relics of unknown personal histories. Snippets of individual stories become part of a larger exploration of cultural identities and stereotypes, creating an interrogative dialogue with history.
Catherine J. Morris
Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art