Lorna Simpson

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For the singer, see Lorna Simpson (singer).
Lorna Simpson
LornaSimpsonApr09 cropped.jpg
Simpson in April 2009
Born Lorna Simpson
1960 (1960)
Brooklyn, New York
Nationality American
Education University of California-San Diego, MFA, 1985; School of Visual Arts, New York City, BFA, 1983
Known for Photography, Film, Video
Movement Conceptual photography
Awards 2010 ICP Infinity Award in Art, International Center of Photography, New York City

Lorna Simpson (born 1960) is an African-American photographer and multimedia artist who made her name in the 1980s and 1990s with artworks such as Guarded Conditions and Square Deal. She is one of the leading artists of her generation (to much critical acclaim), and her works have been included in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally.


Born in Brooklyn, New York, she attended the High School of Art and Design and the School of Visual Arts in New York, and then the University of California, San Diego.[1] Her earliest work was as a documentary street photographer, before moving her observations of race and society into her studio.[2] Simpson began exploring ethnic divisions in the 1980s era of multiculturalism.


Simpson first came to prominence in the 1980s for her large-scale works that combined photography and text and defied traditional conceptions of sex, identity, race, culture, history, and memory. Drawing on this work, she started to create large photos printed on felt that showed public but unnoticed sexual encounters. Recently, Simpson has experimented with film as well as continuing to work with photography.[3]

Lorna Simpson, Untitled (2 Necklines), 1989,
2 gelatin silver prints and 11 engraved plastic plaques, 40 x 100 in.,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Simpson's 1989 work, Necklines, shows two circular and identical photographs of a black woman's mouth, chin, neck, and collar bone. The white text, “ring, surround, lasso, noose, eye, areola, halo, cuffs, collar, loop”, individual words on black plaques, imply menace, binding or worse. The final phrase, text on red “feel the ground sliding from under you,” openly suggests lynching, though the adjacent images remain serene, non-confrontational and elegant.[4]

Simpson's work Guarded Conditions, created in 1989, was one in a series in which Simpson has assembled fragmented Polaroid images of a female model whom she has regularly collaborated with. The body is fragmented and viewed from behind, while the back of the model's head is sensed as being in a state of guardedness towards possible hostility she can anticipate as a result of the combination of her sex and the color of her skin. The complex historical and symbolic associations of African-American hairstyles are also brought into play. The message of the text and the formal treatment of the image reinforce a sense of vulnerability. The fragmentation and serialization of bodily images disrupts and denies the body's wholeness and individuality. In attempting to read the work the viewer is provoked into confronting histories of appropriation and consumption of the black female body.[5]

In 1990, Simpson had one woman exhibitions at several major museums, including the Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado, the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.[6] Also in 1990, Simpson became the first African American woman artist to participate in the Venice Biennale.[7][8] Simpson has explored various media and techniques, including two-dimensional photographs as well as silk screening her photographs on large felt panels, creating installations, or producing as video works such as Call Waiting (1997).[9] In a recent video work, Corridor (2003), Simpson sets two women side-by-side; a household servant from 1860 and a wealthy homeowner from 1960. Both women are portrayed by artist Wangechi Mutu, allowing parallel and haunting relationships to be drawn.[10] She has commented, "I do not appear in any of my work. I think maybe there are elements to it and moments to it that I use from my own personal experience, but that, in and of itself, is not so important as what the work is trying to say about either the way we interpret experience or the way we interpret things about identity."[9]

Her work often portrays black women combined with text to express contemporary society's relationship with race, ethnicity and sex.

Simpson's work has been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Miami Art Museum, the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.[3] In 2007, Simpson had a 20-year retrospective of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art in her hometown of New York City.[9][10]

Private life[edit]

Simpson lives in Brooklyn with her daughter Zora.[7]


  • 1989 Artists’ Space Board of Directors, New York, NY
  • 1990 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, New York, NY
  • 1994 Artist Award for a Distinguished Body of Work, College Art Association, New York, NY[1]
  • 1997 Artist-in-Residence Grant, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH[1]
  • 1998 Finalist, Hugo Boss Prize 1998, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, NY
  • 2001 The Whitney Museum of American Art Award sponsored by Cartier and the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, New York, NY
  • 2003 Distinguished Artist-In-Residence, Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY
  • 2014 Shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 for her self-titled exhibition in Paris.[11]

List of Works[edit]

lll (Three Wishbones in a Wood Box). 1994. wooden box containing three wishbones made of ceramic, rubber and bronze inserted in two felt pads. Minneapolis Institute of Art.[12]

Back. 1991. 2 colour Polaroids and 3 plastic plaques.[5]

Counting. 1991. photogravure and screenprint. Minneapolis Institute of Art.[13]

Five Day Forecast. 1991. 5 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper and 15 engraved plaques. Tate Modern, London. [1]

Untitled (What should fit here...). 1993. photo-etching, screenprint and hand-applied watercolor. Minneapolis Institute of Art.[14]

The Waterbearer. 1996. silver print.[1]

Wigs (Portfolio). 1994. portfolio of twenty-one lithographs on felt with seventeen lithographed felt text panels. Museum of Modern Art, New York City.[15]


The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, NY, held a retrospective of Simpson's work in 2007.[1]

Further reading[edit]

    • Simpson, Lorna; Willis, Deborah; Grundberg, Andy (1992). Lorna Simpson. San Francisco: The Friends of Photography. ISBN 0-933286-60-0. 
    • Simpson, Lorna; Wright, Beryl J.; Hartman, Saidiya V. (1992). Lorna Simpson: for the sake of the viewer. New York: Universe Pub. ISBN 0-87663-637-7. 
    • Rogers-Lafferty, Sarah; Simpson, Lorna (1997). Lorna Simpson: interior/exterior, full/empty. Columbus, Ohio: Wexner Center for the Arts/The Ohio State University. ISBN 1-881390-17-9. 
    • Brockington, Horace. "Logical Anonymity: Lorna Simpson, Steve McQueen, Stan Douglas." International Review of African American Art 15 No. 3 (1998): 20-29.
    • Gili, Marta (2002). Lorna Simpson. Ediciones Universidad Salamanca. ISBN 84-95719-08-8. 
    • Jones, Kellie; Simpson, Lorna; Golden, Thelma; Iles, Chrissie (2002). Lorna Simpson. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Phaidon. ISBN 0-7148-4038-6. 
    • Simpson, Lorna; Gili, Marta; Fernández-Cid, Miguel (2004). Compostela: Lorna Simpson: Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, 5 marzo - 30 maio 2004, Santiago de Compostela. Santiago de Compostela, Spain: Xunta de Galicia. ISBN 84-453-3752-1. 
    • Momin, Shamim; Enwezor, Okwui; Simpson, Lorna; Posner, Helaine; Als, Hilton; Isaac Julien; Golden, Thelma (2006). Lorna Simpson. New York: Abrams, in association with the American Federation of Arts. ISBN 0-8109-5548-2. 
    • Enwezor, Okwui. "Lorna Simpson." New York: Harry N Abrams, Inc., 2006. Print.
    • Simon, Joan. "Lorna Simpson." New York: Prestel Publishing, 2013. Print.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Simpson, Lorna". Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 January 2017. 
  2. ^ Annenberg Foundation. "A World of Art. Biographical Sketch: Lorna Simpson."
  3. ^ a b http://www.lsimpsonstudio.com/#mi=11&pt=0&pi=6&p=-1&a=-1&at=0
  4. ^ National Gallery of Art (2005-05-04). "National Gallery of Art Acquires Important Contemporary Works by Brodthaers, Lewitt, Morris, and Simpson."
  5. ^ a b Reckitt, Helena (2001). Art and feminism. London; New York, NY: Phaidon. p. 139. ISBN 0714835293. 
  6. ^ Robinson, Jontyle Theresa (1997). Simpson, Lorna. St. James Guide to Black Artists. Detroit: St. James Press. p. 488. 
  7. ^ a b Arango, Jorge (May 2002). "At home with Lorna Simpson: a major player in the world of photography and video composes her personal sanctuary - home." Essence.
  8. ^ Robinson, Jontyle Theresa (1997). Simpson, Lorna. St. James Guide to Black Artists. Detroit: St. James Press. p. 489. 
  9. ^ a b c Bell, Jennie (2007-03-07). "Lorna Simpson". ARTINFO. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 
  10. ^ a b Cotter, Holland (2007-03-02). "Exploring Identity as a Problematic Condition." The New York Times.
  11. ^ Vincent, Alice (12 May 2014). "Richard Mosse wins Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  12. ^ "lll (Three Wishbones in a Wood Box)". https://collections.artsmia.org. Minneapolis Institute of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.  External link in |website= (help)
  13. ^ "Counting". https://collections.artsmia.org. Minneapolis Institute of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.  External link in |website= (help)
  14. ^ "Untitled (What should fit here...)". https://collections.artsmia.org/. Minneapolis Institute of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.  External link in |website= (help)
  15. ^ "Wigs (Portfolio)". https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning. Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.  External link in |website= (help)

External links[edit]