Taryn Simon

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Taryn Simon
Born (1975-02-04) February 4, 1975 (age 41)
New York
Nationality American
Education Brown University
Known for Conceptual Art
Notable work Image Atlas, Picture Collection, Black Square, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII, Contraband, Zahra/Farah, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Nonfiction, The Innocents
Movement Contemporary Art
Spouse(s) Jake Paltrow
Awards Guggenheim Fellowship, The Alfred Eisenstaedt Award in Photography, International Center for Photography Infinity Award for publication, KLM Paul Huf Award

Taryn Simon (born February 4, 1975) is a multidisciplinary artist who has worked in photography, text, sculpture and performance. Her practice involves extensive research, guided by an interest in systems of categorization and classification. Simon’s works have been the subject of monographic exhibitions at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2013); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012); Tate Modern, London (2011); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2011); and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007). Permanent collections include Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern, the Guggenheim Museum, Centre Georges Pompidou, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Her work is included in the 56th Venice Biennale (2015). She is a graduate of Brown University and a Guggenheim Fellow. Simon lives and works in New York.


Simon was born in New York City. Her father and grandfather both worked extensively with image and text, which is a tradition that she follows in her own work.[1] She initially pursued environmental sciences at Brown University but quickly transferred to a degree in art-semiotics, simultaneously taking photography classes at the neighboring Rhode Island School of Design. She received her BA in 1997.[2] She has been a visiting artist at institutions including Yale University, Bard College, Columbia University, School of Visual Arts, and Parsons School of Design.[3]


A Polite Fiction (2014)[edit]

In A Polite Fiction (2014), Taryn Simon maps, excavates, and records the gestures that became entombed beneath – and within – the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s surfaces during its five-year construction. Designed by Frank Gehry, it was built to house the art collection of Bernard Arnault, one of the world’s wealthiest individuals and owner of the largest luxury conglomerate in the world. Simon collects this buried history and examines the latent social, political, and economic forces pushing against power and privilege.

Birds of the West Indies (2013-14)[edit]

Simon’s Birds of the West Indies (2013¬–14) is a two-part body of work, whose title is taken from the definitive taxonomy of the same name by the American ornithologist James Bond. Ian Fleming, an active bird watcher, appropriated the author’s name for his novels’ now well-known protagonist. This co-opting of names was the first in a series of substitutions and replacements that would become central to the construction of the Bond narrative. The first element of the work is a photographic inventory of the women, weapons and vehicles of James Bond films made over the past fifty years. This visual database of interchangeable variables used in the production of fantasy examines the economic and emotional value generated by their repetition. In the second element of the work, Simon casts herself as the ornithologist James Bond, identifying, photographing, and classifying all the birds that appear within the 24 films of the James Bond franchise. Simon’s discoveries often occupy a liminal space between reality and fiction; they are confined within the fictional space of the James Bond universe and yet wholly separate from it.

Image Atlas (2012)[edit]

Created during rhizome.org's Seven on Seven[4] conference, Image Atlas is a collaborative project between Simon and the programmer and internet activist Aaron Swartz.[5] Image Atlas investigates cultural differences and similarities by indexing top image results for given search terms across local engines throughout the world. Users can refine or expand their comparisons from 57 countries and sort by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or alphabetical order.[6] In an extensive article on the Seven on Seven conference Ben Davis writes that "Simon suggested that the site might cut against 'the illusion of flattening' on the Web, offering some way of recovering a sense of the local."[7] Image Atlas has been described as, "an elegant project in that it demonstrated how something as fundamental to web interaction as "searching" is actually bound and determined by many cultural and political forces."[8] Curator Lauren Cornell, Adjunct Curator and former Director of Rhizome stated, "The Image Atlas proposes a singular method of retrieving and comparing pictures, to demonstrate the difference in a world supposedly flattened by the forces of the global economy."[9]

Picture Collection (2012)[edit]

The Picture Collection (2013) was inspired by the New York Public Library’s picture archive, which contains 1.2 million prints, postcards, posters, and printed images. It is the largest circulating picture library in the world, organized according to a complex cataloging system of over 12,000 subject headings. Simon sees this extensive archive of images as a precursor to Internet search engines. In The Picture Collection, Simon highlights the human impulse to archive and organize visual information, and points to the invisible hands behind seemingly neutral systems of image gathering. The Picture Collection was developed in response to the online database Image Atlas (2012), created by Simon with computer programmer Aaron Swartz.

Black Square (2006– )[edit]

Black Square (2006– ) is an ongoing project focused on the consequences of man’s inventions. To create each Black Square, Taryn Simon collects objects, documents, and individuals within a black field that has precisely the same measurements as Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 Suprematist work of the same name.

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters (2008-2011)[edit]

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII was produced over a four year period (2008–11) during which Simon travelled around the world researching and recording bloodlines and their related stories. In each of the eighteen “chapters” comprising the work, the external forces of territory, power, circumstance or religion collide with the internal forces of psychological and physical inheritance. The subjects documented by Simon include victims of genocide in Bosnia, test rabbits infected with a lethal disease in Australia, the first woman to hijack an aircraft, and the living dead in India. Her collection is at once cohesive and arbitrary, mapping the relationships among chance, blood, and other components of fate.[10]

Contraband (2010)[edit]

Contraband is an archive of global desires and perceived threats, presenting 1,075 images of items that were detained or seized from passengers and mail entering the United States from abroad, taken at both the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Site and the U.S. Postal Service International Mail Facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York.From November 16, 2009 through November 20, 2009, Taryn Simon remained on site at JFK and continuously photographed items detained or seized from passengers and express mail entering the United States from abroad.

"Simon’s images and lists embrace both order and disorder, and open up a third space within the cracks of these forms of control: a space of the surreptitious, the forgotten, the bizarre and the banal, exposed to the cold light of the camera…” [11] —Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Zahra/Farah (2008/2009/2011)[edit]

Director Brian De Palma asked Simon to take the photograph that is the final frame of his 2007 film Redacted. She traveled to Jordan to shoot a young Iraqi actress, Zahra Zubaidi, posed as if lying raped and burned, the victim of American soldiers. Zubaidi received death threats from family members, who consider Redacted pornographic, and was seeking asylum in the U.S. Simon arranged for the photograph to be shown at the 2011 Venice Biennale to draw attention to Zubaidi’s situation.[12]

De Palma and Simon discussed their work and their methods in a conversation published in Artforum (vol. 50, no.10, summer 2012):[12] Brian De Palma: Look, the hard thing—I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too—is that once you have a project, you think about how you’re going to photograph the scene until you actually do it. I have always felt that the camera view is just as important as what’s in front of the camera. Consequently, I’m obsessed with how I’m shooting the scene. When you’re making a movie, you think about it all the time—you’re dreaming about it, you wake up with ideas in the middle of the night—until you actually go there and shoot it. You have these ideas that are banging around in your head, but once you objectify them and lock them into a photograph or cinema sequence, then they get away from you. They’re objectified; they no longer haunt you. Taryn Simon: The haunting can be torturous. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed the making of my work. It’s a labor. Do you find pleasure in getting to that point of objectification? Brian De Palma: You know, there is no rest.

An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007)[edit]

An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar reveals objects, sites, and spaces that are integral to America's foundation, mythology, or daily functioning but remain inaccessible or unknown to a public audience. These unseen subjects range from radioactive capsules at a nuclear waste storage facility to a black bear in hibernation to the art collection of the CIA. Simon has stated that she, "wanted to confront the divide between public and expert access."[13] The publication features 70 colour plates and a foreword by Salman Rushdie. Ronald Dworkin contributed a commentary, while curators Elisabeth Sussman and Tina Kukielski of the Whitney Museum of American Art contributed an introduction. It was published by Steidl and exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2006. In 2007 it was on view at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany.[14][15] She discussed the project with photography historian Geoffrey Batchen for the 8th volume of Museo.

"In a historical period in which many people are making such great efforts to conceal the truth from the mass of the people, an artist like Taryn Simon is an invaluable counter-force. Democracy needs visibility, accountability, light… Somehow, Simon has persuaded a good few denizens of hidden worlds not to scurry for shelter when the light is switched on, as cockroaches and vampires do, but to pose proudly for her invading lens…" [16] — Salman Rushdie

The Innocents (2003)[edit]

The Innocents (2003) documents the stories of individuals who were wrongly sentenced to death or life sentences, and were released due to DNA evidence. The work calls into question photography’s function as a credible witness and arbiter of justice.

Simon has commented: "For the men and women in these photographs, the primary cause of wrongful conviction was mistaken identification. A victim or eyewitness identifies a suspected perpetrator through law enforcement’s use of photographs and lineups. [...] In our reliance upon [DNA evidence], we marginalize the majority of the wrongfully convicted, for whom there is no DNA evidence, or those for whom the cost of DNA testing is prohibitive."[17] This project inspired her to apply for and be awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Photography to travel across the United States photographing and interviewing individuals who were unfairly convicted.[18] Simon photographed the men at sites that had particular significance to their illegitimate conviction: the scene of misidentification, the scene of arrest, the scene of the crime or the scene of the alibi.[19] In Simon's forward for the book she writes, "Photography's ability to blur truth and fiction is one if its most compelling qualities... Photographs in the criminal justice system, and elsewhere, can turn fiction into fact. As I got to know the men and women in this book, I saw that photography's ambiguity, beautiful in one context, can be devastating in another."[20]


The Picture Collection. Paris: Edition Cahiers d'Art, 2015

Rear Views, A Star-Forming Nebula, and the Department of Foreign Propaganda. London: Tate Publishing, 2015

Birds of the West Indies. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2013

A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII. Exh. cat., Tate Modern/Neue Nationalgalerie. Berlin/London: Nationalgalerie Staatliche Museen/MACK, 2011. 2nd ed.,London/ New York: Wilson Center of Photography/Gagosian Gallery, 2012

Contraband. Göttingen: Steidl/New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2010. 2nd ed., Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2015

An American Index of the Hidden Unfamiliar. Exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art. Göttingen: Steidl, 2007. 2nd ed., Göttingen: Steidl, 2008. 3rd ed., Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012

The Innocents. New York: Umbrage Editions, 2003. 2nd ed., New York: Umbrage Editions, 2004

Public Collections[edit]


  • Kunst-werke, Berlin, Germany, "Taryn Simon: The Innocents (and other works)" (2003).
  • MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York, USA, "Taryn Simon: The Innocents" (2003).[25]
  • Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, Copenhagen, Denmark, Taryn Simon: "The Innocents" (2004).
  • Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen, Norway, "Taryn Simon: The Innocents" (2004).
  • Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, "Taryn Simon: The Innocents" (2006).[26]
  • High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, "Taryn Simon: Nonfiction" (2006).
  • Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, The Documentary Factor, (2006).
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA, "Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" (2007).[27]
  • Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany, "Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" (2007).
  • The Photographer's Gallery, London, United Kingdom, "An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" (2007).
  • The 7th Gwangju Biennale Annual Report: A Year in Exhibitions, Gwangju, South Korea, (2008).
  • FOAM, Fotografie Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, "Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" (2008).
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA, “Reality Check: Truth and Illusion in Contemporary Photography”, (2008).
  • Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia, Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar", (2009).
  • Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, Poland, “Political/Minimal”, (2009).
  • Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, France, (2009).
  • Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand "Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" (2010).[28]
  • Lever House, New York, NY, “Contraband”, (2010).[29]
  • Les Rencontres d'Arles, France.[30]
  • Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin "Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts", 2011.[31]
  • Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève, Genève, Switzerland, "Taryn Simon: Contraband" (2011).[32]
  • Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany, "Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Others Chapters I - IVIII" (2011).[33]
  • Helsinki Art Museum, "Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts", 2012.[34]
  • Moscow House of Photography, Moscow, Russia, “Taryn Simon", 2011.[35]
  • Tate Modern, London, England, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters”, 2011.[36]
  • Danish Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, Speech Matters, 2011.
  • Helsinki City Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland, "Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts", 2012.[37]
  • Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, "Taryn Simon: Photographs and Texts", 2012.[38]
  • The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, "Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Others Chapters I - IVIII" (2012).
  • Museum of Modern Art, New York, "A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters", 2012.[39]
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, "Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I - IVIII", (2013).[40]
  • The Pavillion Downtown, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, "Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I - IVIII", (2013).
  • Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany, "Taryn Simon: There are Some Who Are in Darkness", (2013).[41]
  • Ullens Center of Contemporary Art, Beijing, China, "Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I - IVIII", (2013).[42]
  • Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA, "Taryn Simon: Birds of the West Indies" (2013).[43]
  • Fondation Louis Vuitton, paris, France, "Taryn Simon: A Polite Fiction" (2014).[44]
  • MOCAK - Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, Krakow, Poland, "Taryn Simon: The Picture Collection", (2014).
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, "Now You See It: Photography and Concealement", (2014).
  • Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom, Conflict, Time, Photography", (2014.)
  • Le Point du Jour, Cherbourg, France, Taryn Simon: : A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I - IVIII", (2015).
  • Jeu de Paume, Paris, France, "Taryn Simon: Rear Views, A Star-Forming Nebula and the Office of Foreign Propaganda", (2015).[45]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ Joan Juliet Buck (November 2011), Taryn’s World W.
  2. ^ Taryn Simon Yale University School of Art, New Haven.
  3. ^ Sean O'Hagan (May 22, 2011), Taryn Simon: the woman in the picture The Guardian.
  4. ^ "Rhizome's Seven On Seven Conference". rhizome.org. 
  5. ^ "Seven on Seven 2012: Aaron Swartz and Taryn Simon". Vimeo. 
  6. ^ New Museum Exhibitions [1] The New Museum.
  7. ^ "Can Artists Help Us Reboot Humanism in an Over-Connected Age? - BLOUIN ARTINFO". Artinfo. 
  8. ^ "Taryn Simon and Aaron Swartz: Image Atlas - Hacker News". ycombinator.com. 
  9. ^ "Taryn Simon and Aaron Swartz: Image Atlas". newmuseum.org. 
  10. ^ Private correspondence between Taryn Simon and Homi Bhabha
  11. ^ Hans Ulrich Obrist. Contraband. Göttingen: Steidl/New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2010, p. 11.
  12. ^ a b Art Forum, Summer, 2012, page 249
  13. ^ Art Forum, Summer 2012
  14. ^ "archivetarynsimon". arttattler.com. 
  15. ^ "The Photographers' Gallery - The Photographers' Gallery". The Photographers' Gallery. 
  16. ^ Rushdie, Salman. An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar Exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art. Göttingen: Steidl, 2007, p.7.
  17. ^ http://www.mocp.org/exhibitions/2005/08/taryn_simon_the.php
  18. ^ Taryn Simon: The Innocents, May 11 — August 31, 2003 MoMA PS1, New York.
  19. ^ Taryn Simon: The Innocents, June 11 - July 31, 2004 Gagosian Gallery, London.
  20. ^ The Innocents, Umbrage Editions, 2003
  21. ^ "L'œuvre Playboy, Braille Edition, Playboy enterprises, Inc. New York - Centre Pompidou". centrepompidou.fr. Centre Pompidou. Retrieved 29 February 2016. 
  22. ^ "Dr. Sri, Physician, Tsunami Survivor". high.org. High Museum of Art. Retrieved 29 February 2016. 
  23. ^ "Taryn Simon (American, born 1975)". getty.edu. J. Paul Getty Trust. Retrieved 29 February 2016. 
  24. ^ http://www.moma.org/collection/artists/41212?locale=en.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ "MoMA PS1: Exhibitions: Taryn Simon: The Innocents". ps1.org. 
  26. ^ "Exhibitions". contemporaryartscenter.org. 
  27. ^ http://www.whitney.org/www/exhibition/past.jsp
  28. ^ http://dunedin.art.museum/
  29. ^ "Home". leverhouseartcollection.com. 
  30. ^ "Les Rencontres d'Arles Rencontres d'Arles: expositions, stages photo / exhibitions, photo workshops.". rencontres-arles.com. 
  31. ^ Milwaukee Art Museum. "Milwaukee Art Museum - Exhibitions". mam.org. 
  32. ^ http://www.centre.ch/taryn-simon
  33. ^ http://www.smb.museum/en/museums-and-institutions/neue-nationalgalerie/exhibitions/exhibition-detail/taryn-simon.html
  34. ^ http://www.hel.fi/hki/Taimu/en/Art+Museum+Meilahti/Meilahti_nayttely_1_enTaryn Simon
  35. ^ "Innocence of the guilty: Taryn Simon’s retrospective opens in Moscow". rt.com. 
  36. ^ "Taryn Simon - Tate". tate.org.uk. 
  37. ^ http://www.hel.fi/hki/taimu/en/art+museum+meilahti/past_exhibitions/2012/taryn+simon
  38. ^ "Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow - Exhibitions - Taryn Simon - Photographs and Texts". Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow. 
  39. ^ "MoMA". moma.org. 
  40. ^ https://corcoran.gwu.edu/taryn-simon
  41. ^ http://www.museum-folkwang.de/en/exhibitions/archive/taryn-simon.html?desktop=jerqgxojzlqtms
  42. ^ http://ucca.org.cn/en/exhibition/taryn-simon-living-man-declared-dead-chapters-xviii/
  43. ^ http://ci13.cmoa.org/
  44. ^ 93663027
  45. ^ http://www.jeudepaume.org/index.php?page=article&idArt=2206
  46. ^ "2011 Edition", Rencontres d'Arles. Accessed 5 September 2015.

External links[edit]