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|Born||1961 (age 55–56)
Liberty, New York
|Known for||photography, sculpture|
Zoe Leonard (born 1961) is an American artist who works primarily with photography and sculpture. She has exhibited widely since the late 1980s and her work has been included in a number of seminal exhibitions including Documenta IX and Documenta XII, and the 1993, 1997 and 2014 Whitney biennials.
Zoe Leonard was born in 1961 in Liberty, New York. At 16, she dropped out of school and started taking photographs. She has spent most of her adult life living in New York City, whose built environment has been the subject matter of much of her work (e.g. sidewalks, storefronts, apartment buildings, chain link fences, graffiti, and boarded up windows.) Leonard became well-known internationally following her installation at Documenta IX in 1992.
From her earliest aerial photographs to her images of museum displays, anatomical models, and fashion shows, much of Leonard’s work reflects on the framing, classifying, and ordering of vision. She explains in a recent interview: “Rather than any one subject or genre (landscape, portrait, still life, etc), I was, and remain, interested in engaging a simultaneous questioning of both subject and vantage point, the relation between viewer and world — in short, subjectivity and how it informs our experience of the world.”
In 1995 she staged an exhibition at her studio on the Lower East Side of Manhattan which featured the work Strange Fruit, an installation of various fruit skins (oranges, bananas, grapefruits, lemons) that Leonard saved and then sewed together by hand with wire and thread. Strange Fruit grew out of a deeply personal response to the losses of the AIDS epidemic and as a meditation on mourning, it became a seminal work of the 1990s. Strange Fruit was exhibited in 1998 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it currently resides.
During the mid-1990s Leonard spent two years living in a remote part of Alaska, an experience that influenced much of her later artwork, which often foregrounds relationships between humans and the natural world. The tree in particular has been an ongoing motif in Leonard’s practice, ranging from a “reconstructed” tree which she installed in Vienna’s Secession in 1997 to numerous photographs of urban trees mangled in chain-link and razor wire fences.
Between 1998 and 2009 Leonard worked on Analogue, a monumental project consisting of an installation of 412 C-prints and gelatin silver prints (in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Reina Sofia, Madrid) and a portfolio of 40 dye-transfer prints. Influenced by Eugène Atget and Walker Evans but born out of a 21st-century re-consideration of the role of photography, Analogue explores transformations in global labor, trade, and social relationships in parallel with the shift from analogue to digital image-making. Holland Cotter described the experience of the work in The New York Times in 2009:
“In her straight-ahead photographs of storefronts, an arrangement of shoes or shrink-wrapped furniture becomes a vanitas still life. A hand-painted shop sign becomes a relic. Over several photographs, we sense that an unnamed neighborhood — Ms. Leonard expanded her field work to include East Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights — is packing up to leave. A city’s material culture is doing a vanishing act. And where is the material going? Back to a version of the world it came from. Many of the cut-rate goods sold in the Lower East Side shops originated in urban sweatshops in China and Pakistan and are eventually passed on as surplus to other poor cities in Africa and Central America. In the wraparound grid of pictures in Analogue we follow recycled clothes from Brooklyn to the city of Kampala in Uganda, where they are sold as new in stores like the Money Is Life House of Garments.”
Analogue was first exhibited in 2007 at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio and at Documenta XII in Kassel, Germany, followed by presentations at Villa Arson in Nice, and Dia at the Hispanic Society and the Museum of Modern Art in New York and was included in a touring retrospective of Leonard’s work which originated in 2007 at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, and later traveled to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; MuMOK — Museum Moderner Kunst Stifting Ludwig, Vienna; and Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich. Analogue is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Reina Sofia, Madrid.
More recent exhibitions have included Serialities in Hauser & Wirth, You See I Am Here After All at Dia: Beacon (2009), Observation Point, Camden Arts Centre, London (2012), an installation at the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas (2013-2014.) and the 2014 Whitney Biennial, for which Leonard won the Bucksbaum Award with her work “945 Madison Avenue". An insightful writer and a pre-eminent thinker on the discipline of photography, texts by Leonard have appeared in LTTR, October, and Texte zur Kunst, and in recent monographs on Agnes Martin, James Castle and Josiah McElheny.
Zoe Leonard is represented by Hauser & Wirth, New York, Cologne, and Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan.
- Available Light, Ridinghouse / Dancing Foxes, London, UK and Brooklyn, 2014
- You See I Am Here After All (with texts by Ann Reynolds, Angela Miller, Lytle Shaw, and Lynne Cooke), Dia Art Foundation, New York; Yale University Press, New Haven, CT and London, UK, 2010
- Analogue, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH, MIT Press, 2007
- Zoe Leonard: Photographs (with texts by Svetlana Alpers, Elisabeth Lebovici, Urs Stahel), Fotomuseum Winterthur, Steidl, 2007
- Zoe Leonard (with text by Elisabeth Lebovici), Centre national de la photographie, Paris, France, 1998
- Zoe Leonard, (with interview by Anna Blume), Secession, Vienna, 1997
- Zoe Leonard, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, 1997
- 'Strange Fruit, Paula Cooper Gallery, NY, 1995
- Information: Zoe Leonard (with text by Jutta Koether), Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, 1991
- "Zoe Leonard -- Photographs", e-flux, November 30, 2007, retrieved May 13, 2010
- Hammond, Harmony (2000). Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History. New York: Rizzoli International Publications. p. 80. ISBN 0-8478-2248-6.
- Beyfus, Drusilla (February 11, 2010), "Zoe Leonard: Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2010", The Daily Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group Limited, retrieved May 13, 2010
- Elisabeth Lebovici & Zoe Leonard. "The Politics of Contemplation" (PDF). Murray Guy, New York. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- "Museum Acquires 'Strange Fruit' And A Group Of Photographs By Zoe Leonard", Philadelphia Museum of Art, retrieved May 16, 2010
- Debord, Matthew (January 1999), "Zoe Leonard talks about her recent work", ArtForum, Artforum International Magazine, Inc., retrieved May 15, 2010
- "Zoe Leonard". Murray Guy: Selected Works. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
- Godfrey, Mark (March 2008). "Mirror Displacements: The Art of Zoe Leonard" (PDF). Artforum. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- Coter, Holland (March 5, 2009). "Change and Permanence, Captured by Cameras". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2013.