Simone Leigh, Jug, 2022. Stoneware. 62 1/2 × 40 3/4 × 45 3/4 inches (158 × 103.5 × 116.2 cm). Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston. Acquired through the generosity of Susana and Clark Bernard, Adelle Chang and Eddie Yoon, the Miller-Coblentz Family, Grace Colby, Fotene Demoulas and Tom Coté, Mathieu O. Gaulin, Jessica Knez and Nicolas Dulac, Christine and John Maraganore, and the Acquisitions Circle. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Timothy Schenck. © Simone Leigh
On View at the Hirshhorn in Fall 2023 and in a joint presentation at LACMA and CAAM in Summer 2024
Exhibition is accompanied by the first monograph of Leigh’s work
(Boston, MA, March 15, 2023)—The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) welcomes home Simone Leigh’s work created for the Venice Biennale, kicking off a national tour that begins at the ICA on April 6 and runs through September 4, 2023. Leigh represented the United States at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, in a project commissioned by the ICA. More than 35 works will be presented in Simone Leigh, including 9 works exhibited at the U.S. Pavilion. The exhibition also features key early works that speak to the artist’s consistent interest in the forms and materials of Black feminist thought, and recent ceramics, bronzes, and videos.
Following its debut at the ICA, the exhibition will then move to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. from November 2023 through March 2024. The tour will conclude in a joint presentation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and California African American Museum (CAAM), on view June 2024 through January 2025 in Los Angeles. Simone Leigh is organized by Eva Respini, ICA Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Barbara Lee Chief Curator, with Anni A. Pullagura, Curatorial Assistant.
“Simone Leigh’s complex and profoundly moving work honors the agency and ideas of Black women, giving visibility to overlooked narratives and histories,” said Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director of the ICA. “We are thrilled to bring Simone Leigh’s art from Venice back to the U.S. as part of this landmark exhibition, so that audiences across the country have the opportunity to experience the work of this consequential and influential artist.”
“It is with pleasure that we expand this presentation to go beyond the works from Venice, including many recent works on view for the first time,” said Eva Respini, who was the Co-Commissioner of the U.S. Pavilion and Curator of the exhibition. “This exhibition reveals and celebrates an artist working at the height of her artistic powers.”
Featuring interrelated sculptures in ceramic, bronze, and raffia, the first galleries of the exhibition will display recent and new works made largely within the past five years. The exhibition culminates with Leigh’s historic Venice exhibition, presented at the ICA in a sequence that evokes the layout of the U.S. Pavilion, providing American audiences the opportunity to experience this historic installation. The exhibition concludes with Last Garment (2022), a bronze based on a 19th-century souvenir photograph of a Jamaican laundress that explores histories of labor, specifically the anonymous labor of Black women. The ICA presentation will feature a new, larger reflecting pool for Last Garment, breathtakingly situated with a sightline of Boston Harbor.
One of the most important artists working today, Leigh creates sculpture, video, installation, and social practice works that situate questions of Black femme, or female-identified, subjectivity at the center of contemporary art discourse. Leigh’s art addresses a wide swath of historical periods, geographies, and traditions, with specific references to vernacular and hand-made processes from across the African diaspora, as well as forms traditionally associated with African art and ritual, all while mining historical gaps, inaccuracies, and fallacies in material and visual culture. Saidiya Hartman’s conception of “critical fabulation”—a strategy that invites historians, artists, and critics to creatively fill the gaps of history—provides a resonant framework for approaching Leigh’s work.
The exhibition features works at both intimate and large scale. A selection of Leigh’s table-top ceramic busts point to her fluency in the medium of ceramics, including references to the Black American folk art tradition of stoneware face vessels; these citations are also rehearsed in larger ceramic works, which draw on the vernacular traditions of the American South, Caribbean, and African continent, and challenge traditional hierarchies of art and labor. Domestic vessels such as bowls and jugs, cowrie shells, and busts are recurring motifs, and her readdress of these forms over time and in various materials underscores the remarkable consistency of Leigh’s vision.
In recent large-scale ceramic sculptures, Leigh merges the human body with traditional domestic containers, conjuring black woman’s labor and knowledge production. The intersection of architecture with the body is also central to her sculpture, such as the work Cupboard IX (2019), seen in the steel cage-like structures that the artist leaves bare or covered with raffia, evoking the womb, skirts, and sub-Saharan dwellings, often built by women and used as gathering spaces.
In 2018, the artist began casting her sculptural works in bronze, creating statuary for both gallery presentations and public art commissions. Her bronzes combine figuration with domestic or architectural elements, such as in the 2019 sculpture Jug, featuring the head and torso of a woman’s body atop a large-scale vessel. Through their material choices, these bronzes embody a state of permanence and grandeur; with their overtly Black feminist and aesthetic references, Leigh’s bronzes also insist on the centrality—indeed, the necessity—of considering the agency of Black women as subjects in the cultural sphere. The exhibition will feature Leigh’s monumental 24-foot-tall bronze Satellite (2022), sited at the entrance of the ICA, broadcasting ideas around self-determination that are endemic to the work.
Leigh’s videos, often created in collaboration with other artists, draw from historical and fictional representations of Black women and femmes. Conspiracy (2022), made with filmmaker Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, focuses on the performativity of making and the studio as a site of labor and care. In the video my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell (2011), Leigh and artist Chitra Ganesh reimagine the reclining female nude, a common subject in European art. Another 2011 collaboration between Leigh and artist Liz Magic Laser, titled Breakdown, features mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran singing a script the two artists compiled from fictional scenes of individuals experiencing nervous breakdowns, offering a stunning meditation on psychology, race, and gender.
A major scholarly monograph is forthcoming, including images of works in the exhibition, installation views from Leigh’s Venice presentation, and images of works from throughout her career, accompanies the exhibition. Serving as the first comprehensive scholarly publication on Leigh’s practice, the publication includes newly commissioned essays by over fifteen leading scholars, historians, and writers; a conversation between Simone Leigh, Lorraine O’Grady, and Malik Gaines; and an introduction by Eva Respini. The catalogue is designed by Nontsikelelo Mutiti, and co-published by the ICA and DelMonico Books. The monograph will be available summer 2023.
Contributors to the publication include:
Denise Ferreira da Silva
Saidiya V. Hartman
Daniella Rose King
Rianna Jade Parker
Anni A. Pullagura
Hortense J. Spillers
The U.S. Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia was co-commissioned by Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director, and Eva Respini, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Barbara Lee Chief Curator, at the ICA.
Simone Leigh is organized by Eva Respini, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Barbara Lee Chief Curator, with Anni A. Pullagura, Curatorial Assistant.
With warmest thanks, the ICA/Boston gratefully acknowledges the following philanthropic partners for their magnificent support.
Major support is provided by the Ford Foundation and the Mellon Foundation.
Lead corporate support is provided by eu2be.
Generous support is provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser, Girlfriend Fund, and Wagner Foundation
Leadership gifts are provided by Amy and David Abrams, Stephanie Formica Connaughton and John Connaughton, Bridgitt and Bruce Evans, James and Audrey Foster, Agnes Gund, Jodi and Hal Hess, Hostetler/Wrigley Foundation, Barbara and Amos Hostetter, Brigette Lau Collection, Henry Luce Foundation, Kristen and Kent Lucken, Tristin and Martin Mannion, Ted Pappendick and Erica Gervais Pappendick, Gina and Stuart Peterson, Helen and Charles Schwab, and the Terra Foundation for American Art
Essential support is also provided by Suzanne Deal Booth, Kate and Chuck Brizius, Richard Chang, Karen and Brian Conway, Steven Corkin and Dan Maddalena, Federico Martin Castro Debernardi, Jennifer Epstein and Bill Keravuori, Esta Gordon Epstein and Robert Epstein, Negin and Oliver Ewald, Alison and John Ferring, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, Vivien and Alan Hassenfeld and the Hassenfeld Family Foundation, Peggy J. Koenig and Family, The Holly Peterson Foundation, David and Leslie Puth, Cindy and Howard Rachofsky, Leslie Riedel and Scott Friend, Mark and Marie Schwartz, Kim Sinatra, Tobias and Kristin Welo, Lise and Jeffrey Wilks, Kelly Williams and Andrew Forsyth, Nicole Zatlyn and Jason Weiner, Jill and Nick Woodman, Marilyn Lyng and Dan O’Connell, Komal Shah and Gaurav Garg Foundation, Kate and Ajay Agarwal, Eunhak Bae and Robert Kwak, Jeremiah Schneider Joseph, Barbara H. Lloyd, Cynthia and John Reed, and anonymous donors