Lorna Simpson - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, October 21, 2020 | Phillips

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  • The Female Black Body


    Lorna Simpson is a multi-media conceptual artist who uses visual representation through imagery and text to construct and deconstruct the notion of race and its place in art history. Portrait, 1988, is a perfect example of her well-known photo-text series in which she crops a profile to represent the female black body. Executed in 1988, it is one of her earlier works, using serigraph and incorporating an engraved plastic plaque with the words ‘they try to whisper secret nothings’. Throughout her career, Lorna Simpson addresses the importance of identity, memory, gender, history, fantasy, and reality. In Portrait, the eyes are covered with a mask, almost to emphasise the listening ear, playing on the viewer’s understanding of senses: what can be seen and what can be heard. The ambiguity in her works are intentional, as once commented, ‘People really desire a narrative; they want to see a fully formed, closed, succinct message. I’ve always in some way avoided a very closed, concise narrative.’ i In this way, the artist allows for imagination and space for interpretation. Simpson’s most recent 2020 exhibition at Hauser and Wirth, Lorna Simpson Special Characters, is an amalgamation of her artistic techniques and reoccurring theme of fragmentation in terms of how society regulates our bodies and how we think about ourselves.


    Complexity of Identity


    Lorna Simpson grew up in Chicago and later moved to Brooklyn with her Jamaican Cuban father and African American mother. She witnessed the Civil Rights Movement in the Midwest as a child which struck her deeply. Prior to receiving her BFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Simpson travelled across Europe, Africa and the United States where she explored and developed her style of photography. She was fuelled by the interest in whether documentary photography appears to be factual or can be used as a tool to shape constructed truths. She later earned her Master of Fine Arts at the University of California, San Diego. These experiences contributed toward her interest in the complexity of identity within herself and within the larger artistic community whilst influenced by the likes of Gonzales Torres and David Hammons and by writers such as Ishmael Reed, Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison. In 1990, she became the first African American woman to exhibit at the Venice Biennale and was also the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 


    Lorna Simpson on her practice


    iLorna Simpson, quote in Osman Can Yerebakan, ‘Lorna Simpson with Osman Can Yerebakan’, The Brooklyn Rail, online

    • Provenance

      Anna Kustera, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Boston, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts; Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Kunsthalle Bremen; Struttgart, Wurttembergischer Kunstverein, The Binational. American Art of the Late 80's. German Art of the Late 80's, 23 September 1988 - 4 June 1989, no. 69, pp. 179, 252 (another example exhibited and illustrated p.179)
      Canary Islands, Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Desplazamientos: Aspectos de la identidad y las culturas, 21 May – 7 July 1991, pp. 128-129 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 129)
      New York, Sotheby's S|2 Gallery, I Like It Like This: S|2 x Drake, 28 April - 12 June 2015 (another example exhibited)



silver gelatin print, in artist's frame with engraved plastic plaque
frame 158.8 x 65.4 cm (62 1/2 x 25 3/4 in.)
plaque 12.7 x 38.4 cm (5 x 15 1/8 in.)

Executed in 1988, this work is number 1 from an edition of 1 plus 1 artist's proof.

Full Cataloguing

£40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for £44,100

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Director

20th Century & Contemporary Art

+44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 21 October 2020