Shower Cap

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  • Provenance

    Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in March 2013

  • Video

    Simone Leigh, 'Shower Cap', Lot 1

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Catalogue Essay

    Sensuous, sleek and luminous, Shower Cap, 2013, is an exhilarating example of Simone Leigh’s ground-breaking sculptural practice. With her fresh artistic vision, Leigh transforms ordinary materials into unflinching sculptures, and endows everyday signs with deep metaphoric associations touching on the complexities of black female subjectivity. Having studied West African and Native American ceramic traditions, the artist coalesces an array of visual sources that together convey unique totemic qualities, often juxtaposing historical and geographical contexts to conjure a discrete, yet resounding, socio-political meaning. Here, it is the titular shower cap that stands out with its penetrating, almost electric, blue hue that departs from the sculpture’s otherwise pewter-black base. Marking a stark contrast with the bust’s traditional rendering, the shower cap element prompts the viewer to reflect on its uncanny association with a classical sculptural aesthetic, in turn prompting a number of interrogations surrounding the often erroneous categorisation, display, and historicisation of objects associated with the African diaspora.

    Currently the recipient of significant critical, curatorial and commercial attention, Leigh first rose to prominence in 2016, on the occasion of her important 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 she contributed to on the New York High Line – in place since June 2019 – have collectively stunned the critics and public this year. Her 'Plinth' project, entitled Brick House, consists of an almost 5-metre-high bronze bust whose torso is combined with the shape of a skirt and a clay house. Resonating with the present work, this gargantuan sculpture summons such statuesque archetypes as the eminent Bust of Nefertiti, whose long, strong and graceful features similarly celebrate the supremacy of womanhood in a matrilinear context.

    Yet, while references to past sculptural styles are inevitable in Shower Cap, the work simultaneously touches on deeply modern questions, both formally and conceptually. Approaching abstraction through the strategic effacement of the figure’s facial features – namely her eyes and ears – Shower Cap interrogates the voice and visibility of the woman it embodies. A signature trait in Leigh’s sculptural output, the removal of key human orifices could – in line with the artist’s thematic concerns – symbolise the loss of sentience imposed on black women in the face of systemic racial inequalities. Alternatively, and perhaps even more poignantly, the absence of senses could signify a form of liberation. As beckoned by Helen Molesworth in her raw, poetic and admiring Artforum essay in Leigh’s homage, the large, anonymous figures sculpted by the artist are self-sufficient, living in their own internal worlds as if unbothered by the surrounding clamour. ‘They remain self-possessed, looking inward, contemplating and thinking things that I cannot fathom’, she writes. In other words, Leigh conveys a realm where female figures are ‘sentinels holding space for a culture that is very much in the making, a culture in which whiteness is neither the center nor the frame’ (Helen Molesworth, ‘Art is Medicine’, Artforum, March 2018, online).

    The rose-budded flower-cap, and its inherent proximity to the aquatic realm, furthermore pursues the thematic preoccupation Leigh began cultivating in the early 2010s with her series of aggrandised, porcelain cowrie shells. While the shells were used to represent the worthless currency that Africans used to trade other Africans into transatlantic slavery – revealing a ‘relationship to oceanic trauma and the radical negativity of [an] exchange’ – the shower cap here circles back to the act of swimming; an activity historically brimming with socio-political implications, as it signified luxurious leisure for one portion of society whilst representing utter danger for another (Malik Gaines, ‘Simone Leigh by Malik Gaines’, Bomb Magazine, 1 April 2014, online). Through coating numerous black bodies, sculpted within the tradition of ancient African art, with a symbol for that act, Leigh explores paradoxical notions of beauty and injustice, majesty and tragedy, grace and awareness. Shower Cap, as such, embodies the key tenets of her artistic practice, employing the traditional medium of sculpture as a conceptual arena for identity politics.


Property from a Distinguished New York Collection

Shower Cap

stoneware, porcelain, cobalt, epoxy and plastic
91.4 x 35.6 x 30.5 cm (36 x 14 x 12 in.)
Executed in 2013.

£40,000 - 60,000 

sold for £175,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Senior Director
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


Rosanna Widén
Director, Senior Specialist
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019