Simone Leigh - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I am charting a history of change and adaptation through objects and gesture and the unstoppable forward movement of Black women.' —Simone LeighA stunning and deeply affecting portrait of a young, Black woman, her head crowned in tightly inlaid black roses, Clarendon is an exquisite example of American artist Simone Leigh’s investigation into Black history and femininity. Developing her practice across sculpture, video, performance and social engagement for over two decades, Leigh has synthesised European sculptural experiment with the traditional West African and Native American ceramic traditions, her sensitive, sensual forms carving out a space to explore the complexity of Black female subjectivity, and to challenge stereotypes associated with African art. Working directly with her own hands rather than outsourcing the production of her sculptures, Leigh’s figures present a touching tribute to the generations of manual labour performed by Black men and women before her, the ‘result of her hand present in all stages of the process of making is that the works are extremely resonant in person […] every detail, every surface, translates to works that are at once personal and human.’i

     

    Clarendon County

     

    Referencing a hugely significant moment in 20th century American history and the struggle for Civil Rights, the title of the present work takes its name from Clarendon County in South Carolina, where the fight against school segregation first took shape in the late 1940s. Situated in the heart of the cotton belt, Clarendon County was strictly segregated according to Jim Crow laws, with a White minority owning the majority of land and enjoying privileged access to basic resources. Refusing to fund buses for Black students, sixty one poorly equipped schools were scattered throughout the county designed for young Black students. Often simple, small wooden structures with no running water or electricity, these schools stood in sharp contrast to the impressive red brick buildings complete with science laboratories and playing fields provided for the education of White children.

     

    Demonstrators picket in front of a school board office protesting segregation of students, 1963. Part of a Picture Story entitled "Why They Marched" about the March on Washington. Image: RBM Vintage Images / Alamy Stock Photo
    Demonstrators picket in front of a school board office protesting segregation of students, 1963. Part of a Picture Story entitled "Why They Marched" about the March on Washington. Image: RBM Vintage Images / Alamy Stock Photo

     

    After their initial request for a school bus to be provided for local Black children who were forced to cover large distances to and from school everyday was ignored, the parents of Clarendon County began to push for greater legal rights, putting forth a petition demanding the immediate integration of the County’s schools. Undertaking extensive psychological evaluation to support the case, it became devastatingly clear that forced segregation caused immeasurable damage to these young children’s sense of their self-worth and identity.

    'I am of the opinion that all of the legal guideposts, expert testimony, common sense and reason point unerringly to the conclusion that the system of segregation in education adopted and practiced in the state of South Carolina must go and go now. Segregation is per se inequality.' —Judge J. Waites WaringThe first lawsuit in the country to challenge segregation in schools as unconstitutional, the events in Clarendon County and the fortitude shown by members of the community set the foundations for the 1954 Supreme Court ruling against racial segregation in public schools, and are directly connected to the violet protests in Arkansas when the ‘Little Rock Nine’ arrived for their first day at the newly integrated school. In her presentation of the bust of a young, Black girl, Clarendon engages deeply with these ideas, the beautiful, tenderly rendered roses that make up the sculpted forms of the young girl’s hair here poignantly empathising the flourishing of youth, and the role of education in helping children grow to reach their full potential.

     

    A Question of Form

    'In Western cultures there is a stated separation between style and substance; there is an idea of the object and the decoration. Black aesthetics deny this separation.'
    —Simone Leigh

    Executed with exquisite smoothness and radiating a palpable luminosity in its sleek, pewter-black finish, Clarendon is highly typical of Leigh’s sculptural language, the figure’s radically simplified face radiating quiet dignity, grace, and resilience. As Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts has observed, ‘Though without eyes, they are not without affect. How many emotions can be read from the tilt of a chin, the slope of a nose, and the many varieties of coiffure styled from hundreds of miniature hand-rolled porcelain rosettes?’ii

     

    Originally trained as a ceramicist, Leigh’s education combined Western techniques with those more specific to the traditional approaches practiced in West and South Africa, notable here in her innovation combination of materials and incorporation of certain vernacular elements familiar to African sculpture. In her elongated treatment of smooth, polished forms, Leigh draws on a legacy of modernist experiment best exemplified by Constantin Brancusi’s lyrical abstraction. However, where Brancusi’s figures embody a kind of mute ideal, Leigh’s figures still speak volumes, touching a history of the social silencing of Black women, but gesturing towards a powerful self-sufficiency, presenting themselves to the viewer as ‘self-possessed, looking inward, contemplating and thinking things that I cannot fathom’ […] sentinels holding space for a culture that is very much in the making, a culture in which whiteness is neither the centre nor the frame’iii

     

    Constantin Brancusi, Mademoiselle Pogany [I], 1912, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: © Philadelphia Museum of Art / Gift of Mrs. Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee, 1933 / Bridgeman


    [Left] Constantin Brancusi, Mademoiselle Pogany [I], 1912, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: © Philadelphia Museum of Art / Gift of Mrs. Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee, 1933 / Bridgeman, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
    [Right] Ghanian Memorial Head, c.18th to 19th century, Dallas Museum of Art. Image: Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

    Collector’s Digest

     

    • The focus of significant critical attention since her pivotal solo exhibition at the New Museum in New York in 2016, Simone Leigh has been the subject of several major exhibitions at prestigious institutions including the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

     

    • This year, Leigh made history as the first Black woman to represent the United States at La Venezia Biennale, where she was awarded the much-coveted Golden Lion for her presentation in the Arsenale.

     

    • Leigh will open her first museum survey at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in 2023. 
     

    Simone Leigh: Sovereignty at the US Pavilion


    i Eva Respini, quoted in ‘Artist Simone Leigh Reveals Her Plans for the Venice Biennale, Including a Major Symposium of Black Thinkers and Makers’, Artnet News, 8 December 2022, online.  
    ii Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, ‘Simone Leigh: For Her Own Pleasure and Edification’, in (exh. cat.), New York, The Hugo Boss Prize 2018: Simone Leigh, Loophole of Retreat, 2019, n.p.
    iii Helen Molesworth, ‘Art is Medicine’, Artforum, March 2018, online

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Tilton Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015

    • Artist Biography

      Simone Leigh

      American • 1967

      Born in Chicago and currently working in Brooklyn, New York, Simone Leigh is celebrated for her ground-breaking sculptural practice. Having studied ceramic traditions of West Africa and Native America, Leigh transforms ordinary materials into unflinching sculptures and shapes a conceptual arena for identity politics—exploring the complexity of blackness and visual representation of black bodies. She endows everyday signs with metaphors for black female subjectivity that simultaneously challenge stereotypes associated with African art.

      The artist first rose to prominence in 2016, on the occasion of her solo exhibition at the New Museum, New York, immediately followed by her show at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Cementing her rapid ascent to the contemporary canon, Leigh’s inclusion in the Whitney Biennial, her solo show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and the inaugural ‘Plinth’ project on the New York High Line, launched in June 2019, have collectively stunned critics and public.

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8

Clarendon

terracotta, coloured porcelain, India ink and epoxy
43.2 x 45.7 x 22.9 cm (17 x 17 7/8 x 9 in.)
Executed in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£800,000 - 1,200,000 

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Kate Bryan
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Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022