Simpson in April 2009
Brooklyn, New York
|Education||University of California-San Diego, MFA, 1985; School of Visual Arts, New York, BFA, 1983|
|Known for||Photography, Film, Video|
|Awards||2010 ICP Infinity Award in Art, International Center of Photography, New York City|
Lorna Simpson (born 1960) is an African-American artist and photographer 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. Her earliest work was as a documentary street photographer, before moving her observations of race and society into her studio. Simpson began exploring ethnic divisions in the 1980s era of multiculturalism. Her most notable works combine words with photographs of anonymously cropped images of women and occasionally men. While the pictures may appear straightforward, the text will often confront the viewer with the underlying racism still found in American culture.
Simpson first came to prominence in the 1980s for her large-scale works that combined photography and text and defied traditional conceptions of gender, 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.
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.
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 gender 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 recent histories of Western appropriation and consumption of the black female body.
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). She was the first Black woman to participate at the Venice Biennale. 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. 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."
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, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. 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.
Simpson lives in Brooklyn with her daughter Zora.
- 1989 Artists’ Space Board of Directors, New York, NY
- 1990 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, New York, NY
- 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.
List of Works
Back. 1991. 2 colour Polaroids and 3 plastic plaques.
Five Day Forecast. 1991. 5 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper and 15 engraved plaques. Tate Modern, London. 
- 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.
- Annenberg Foundation. "A World of Art. Biographical Sketch: Lorna Simpson."
- National Gallery of Art (2005-05-04). "National Gallery of Art Acquires Important Contemporary Works by Brodthaers, Lewitt, Morris, and Simpson."
- Reckitt, Helena (2001). Art and feminism. London; New York, NY: Phaidon. p. 139. ISBN 0714835293.
- Bell, Jennie (2007-03-07). "Lorna Simpson". ARTINFO. Retrieved 2008-04-23.
- 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.
- Cotter, Holland (2007-03-02). "Exploring Identity as a Problematic Condition." The New York Times.
- Vincent, Alice (12 May 2014). "Richard Mosse wins Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 13 May 2014.