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Lorna Simpson (born 13 August 1960) is an African-American photographer and multimedia artist who made her name in the 1980s and 1990s with artworks such as Guarded Conditions and Square Deal.[1] Her works have been included in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally. She is best known for her photo-text installations, photocollages, and films.

Lorna Simpson
LornaSimpsonApr09 cropped.jpg
Simpson in April 2009
Lorna Simpson

1960 (1960)
EducationUniversity of California-San Diego, MFA, 1985; School of Visual Arts, New York City, BFA, 1983
Known forPhotography, Film, Video
MovementConceptual photography
Awards2010 ICP Infinity Award in Art, International Center of Photography, New York City


Early life and educationEdit

Lorna Simpson was born on August 13, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York.[1] She attended the High School of Art and Design. Her parents loved the arts and took her to numerous plays, museums, concerts, and dance performances.[2] She later attended the School of Visual Arts in New York where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography in 1983. After receiving her BFA, she traveled to Europe and Africa, developing skills in documentary photography, her earliest works. While traveling, she became inspired to expand her work beyond the field of photography in order to challenge and engage the viewer.

It was these ideas that she worked on while earning her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of California at San Diego in 1985. Her education in San Diego was somewhere between Photography and Conceptual art, and her teachers included conceptualist Allan Kaprow, performance artist Eleanor Antin, filmmakers Babette Mangolte and Jean-Pierre Gorin and poet David Antin.[3] What emerged was her signature style of "photo-text", in which graphic text is inserted into studio-like portraiture, bringing new conceptual meaning into the works. These works generally related to the perception of African-American women within American culture.[1]


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Simpson was showing work through solo exhibitions all over the country, and her name was synonymous with photo-text artworks. She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1985, and in 1990, she became the first African-American woman to exhibit at the Venice Biennale.[4] In 1990, Simpson had one woman exhibitions at several major museums, including the Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado, the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.[5][6] Simpson has explored various media and techniques, including two-dimensional photographs as well as silk screening her photographs on large felt panels, creating installations, or producing as video works such as Call Waiting (1997).[7]

By the 2000s she had started exploring the medium of video installations in order to avoid a paralysis brought on by outside expectations. In 2001 she was awarded the Whitney Museum of Art Award, and in 2007, her work was featured in a 20-year retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in her hometown of New York City.[1][7][8]

Simpson's work has been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Miami Art Museum, the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.[9] Her first European retrospective opened at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 2013, then traveled to Germany, England, and Massachusetts.[10][11][12][13]

External image
  Black America Again (album cover)

She first exhibited paintings in 2015 at the 56th Venice Biennale, followed by a showing at the Salon 94 Bowery. [14][15]

In 2016 Simpson created the album artwork for Black America Again by Common. During the same year, she was featured in the book In the Company of Women, Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs.[16] In a 2017 issue of Vogue Magazine, Simpson showcased a series of portraits of 18 professional creative women who hold art central to their lives. The women photographed included Teresita Fernández, Huma Bhabha, and Jacqueline Woodson. Inspired by their resilience, Simpson said of these women, "They don't take no for an answer".[17]

Simpson continues to influence the legacy of black artists today by speaking with artists and activists such as the Art Hoe Collective, a group of young women using social media to give marginalized groups a safe platform to broadcast their artwork.[18]


Simpson first came to prominence in the 1980s for her large-scale works that combined photography and text and defied traditional conceptions of sex, identity, race, culture, history, and memory. Drawing on this work, she started to create large photos printed on felt that showed public but unnoticed sexual encounters. Recently, Simpson has experimented with film as well as continuing to work with photography.[9]

Lorna Simpson, Untitled (2 Necklines), 1989,
2 gelatin silver prints and 11 engraved plastic plaques, 40 x 100 in.,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Simpson's 1989 work, Necklines, shows two circular and identical photographs of a black woman's mouth, chin, neck, and collar bone. The white text, “ring, surround, lasso, noose, eye, areola, halo, cuffs, collar, loop”, individual words on black plaques, imply menace, binding or worse. The final phrase, text on red “feel the ground sliding from under you,” openly suggests lynching, though the adjacent images remain serene, non-confrontational and elegant.[19]

Easy for Who to Say, Simpson's work from 1989, displays five identical silhouettes of black women from the shoulders up wearing a white top that is similar to women portrayed in other of Simpson's works. The women's faces are obscured by a white-colored oval shape each with one of the following letters inside: A, E, I, O, U. Underneath the corresponding portraits are the words: Amnesia, Error, Indifference, Omission, Uncivil. In this work Simpson alludes to the racialization in ethnographic cinema and the revocation of history faced by many people of color.[20]

Simpson's work Guarded Conditions, created in 1989, was one in a series in which Simpson has assembled fragmented Polaroid images of a female model whom she has regularly collaborated with. The body is fragmented and viewed from behind, while the back of the model's head is sensed as being in a state of guardedness towards possible hostility she can anticipate as a result of the combination of her sex and the color of her skin. The complex historical and symbolic associations of African-American hairstyles are also brought into play. The message of the text and the formal treatment of the image reinforce a sense of vulnerability. The fragmentation and serialization of bodily images disrupts and denies the body's wholeness and individuality. In attempting to read the work the viewer is provoked into confronting histories of appropriation and consumption of the black female body.[21]

In 2009, Simpson created a piece called May, June, July, August '57/'09 #8. In this work, Simpson combined photographs of herself along side a series of photos that she acquired through ebay. The photos she had bought off ebay were of an unidentified woman, and occasionally a male, in staged and attractive poses. When she received the photos, she hung them on her wall where they stayed for months. Eventually, she decided to recreate the images by taking photos of herself in the same pose and clothing as the woman in the photos in 2009. [22]

Simpson's work often portrays black women combined with text to express contemporary society's relationship with race, ethnicity and sex. In many of her works, the subjects are black women with obscured faces, causing a denial of gaze and the interaction associated with visual exchange. Through repetitive use of the same portrait combined with graphic text, her "anti-portraits" have a sense of scientific classification, addressing the cultural associations of black bodies.[23]

In a 2003 video installation, Corridor, Simpson sets two women side-by-side; a household servant from 1860 and a wealthy homeowner from 1960.[24] Both women are portrayed by artist Wangechi Mutu, allowing parallel and haunting relationships to be drawn.[8] She has commented, "I do not appear in any of my work. I think maybe there are elements to it and moments to it that I use from my own personal experience, but that, in and of itself, is not so important as what the work is trying to say about either the way we interpret experience or the way we interpret things about identity."[7]

Private lifeEdit

Simpson lives in Brooklyn with her daughter.[4]


List of worksEdit

  • lll (Three Wishbones in a Wood Box). 1994. wooden box containing three wishbones made of ceramic, rubber and bronze inserted in two felt pads. Minneapolis Institute of Art.[28]
  • Back. 1991. 2 colour Polaroids and 3 plastic plaques.[21]
  • Counting. 1991. photogravure and screenprint. Minneapolis Institute of Art.[29]
  • Five Day Forecast. 1991. 5 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper and 15 engraved plaques. Tate Modern, London.[30]
  • Untitled (What should fit here...). 1993. photo-etching, screenprint and hand-applied watercolor. Minneapolis Institute of Art.[31]
  • The Waterbearer. 1996. silver print.[26]
  • Wigs (Portfolio). 1994. portfolio of twenty-one lithographs on felt with seventeen lithographed felt text panels. Museum of Modern Art, New York City.[32]

Selected solo exhibitionsEdit

  • Lorna Simpson: Projects 23, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1990
  • Lorna Simpson, For the Sake of the Viewer, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Contemporary Art Museum Honolulu; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington. Seattle; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 1992-1994
  • Lorna Simpson: Recent Work, John Berggruen Galley, San Francisco, 1993
  • Works by Lorna Simpson, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 1993
  • Wigs, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, 1994
  • Lorna Simpson: New Works, Rhono Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, 1994
  • Standing in the Water, Whitney Museum of American Art at Phillip Morris, New York; Fabric Workshop, Philadelphia, 1994
  • Lorna Simpson: Wigs, Albrecht Kemper Museum of Art, Saint Joseph, MO, 1996
  • Lorna Simpson: New Work Series, Miami Art Museum, 1997
  • Lorna Simpson: Interior/Exterior, Full/Empty, Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, 1997-1998
  • Lorna Simpson: Call Waiting, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1998
  • Scenarios: Recent Works by Lorna Simpson, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, 1991-2001
  • CCA Kitakyushu Project Gallery, Kitakyushu, Japan, 2000
  • Lorna Simpson: Easy to Remember, Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 2002
  • Lorna Simpson: Cameos and Appearances, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2002[33]
  • Consejo Nacional Para la Cultura y las Artes, Mexico City, 2003
  • Compostela: Lorna Simpson, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, 2004
  • Lorna Simpson, Corridor, Wohnmaschine, Berlin, 2004
  • Lorna Simpson: 31, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto, 2005
  • Lorna Simpson, organized by American Federation of the Arts; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Miami Art Museum; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Kalamazoo Institute of Art, Kalamazoo, MI; Gibbes Museum, Charlestown, SC, 2006-2007[26]
  • 30 Americans, the Rubell Family Collection, Miami, North Carolina Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Chrysler Museum of Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans), Arkansas Arts Center, Detroit Institute of Arts, Cincinnati Art Museum, and Tacoma Art Museum, 2008.[34][35][36]
  • Lorna Simpson: Momentum, Salon 94 Bowery, New York, 2011.[37]
  • Lorna Simpson: Gathered, The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, 2011.[38]
  • Lorna Simpson, organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis and Lausanne, Switzerland; Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA , 2013 (The first European retrospective of Simpson's work in 2013, which traveled to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in 2014).[10][11]


  • Simon, Joan. "Lorna Simpson." New York: Prestel Publishing, 2013. Print.
  • Als, Hilton (2013). Lorna Simpson: Works on Paper. Aspen, CO: Aspen Art Museum Press. ISBN 9780934324632.
  • Momin, Shamim; Enwezor, Okwui; Simpson, Lorna; Posner, Helaine; Als, Hilton; Isaac Julien; Golden, Thelma (2006). Lorna Simpson. New York: Abrams, in association with the American Federation of Arts. ISBN 0-8109-5548-2.
  • Simpson, Lorna; Willis, Deborah; Grundberg, Andy (1992). Lorna Simpson. San Francisco: The Friends of Photography. ISBN 0-933286-60-0.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Simpson, Lorna; Wright, Beryl J.; Hartman, Saidiya V. (1992). Lorna Simpson: for the sake of the viewer. New York: Universe Pub. ISBN 0-87663-637-7.
  • Rogers-Lafferty, Sarah; Simpson, Lorna (1997). Lorna Simpson: interior/exterior, full/empty. Columbus, Ohio: Wexner Center for the Arts/The Ohio State University. ISBN 1-881390-17-9.
  • Gili, Marta (2002). Lorna Simpson. Ediciones Universidad Salamanca. ISBN 84-95719-08-8.
  • Jones, Kellie; Simpson, Lorna; Golden, Thelma; Iles, Chrissie (2002). Lorna Simpson. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Phaidon. ISBN 0-7148-4038-6.
  • Simpson, Lorna; Gili, Marta; Fernández-Cid, Miguel (2004). Compostela: Lorna Simpson: Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, 5 marzo - 30 maio 2004, Santiago de Compostela. Santiago de Compostela, Spain: Xunta de Galicia. ISBN 84-453-3752-1.

External linksEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Brockington, Horace. "Logical Anonymity: Lorna Simpson, Steve McQueen, Stan Douglas." International Review of African American Art 15 No. 3 (1998): 20-29.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Lorna Simpson | American photographer". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  2. ^ "Interview with Lorna Simpson". Aperture Foundation NY. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  3. ^ Cotter, Holland (2007-03-02). "Lorna Simpson - Art - Review". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  4. ^ a b Arango, Jorge (May 2002). "At home with Lorna Simpson: a major player in the world of photography and video composes her personal sanctuary - home." Essence.
  5. ^ Robinson, Jontyle Theresa (1997). Simpson, Lorna. St. James Guide to Black Artists. Detroit: St. James Press. p. 488.
  6. ^ Robinson, Jontyle Theresa (1997). Simpson, Lorna. St. James Guide to Black Artists. Detroit: St. James Press. p. 489.
  7. ^ a b c Bell, Jennie (2007-03-07). "Lorna Simpson". ARTINFO. Retrieved 2008-04-23.
  8. ^ a b Cotter, Holland (2007-03-02). "Exploring Identity as a Problematic Condition." The New York Times.
  9. ^ a b "Exhibitions". Lorna Simpson Studio. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  10. ^ a b "Lorna Simpson". Le Jeu de Paume. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  11. ^ a b "Baltic Plus | Lorna Simpson". Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  12. ^ "Phillips Academy - Lorna Simpson at the Addison". Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  13. ^ "Lorna Simpson". Haus der Kunst. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  14. ^ "This Is How Lorna Simpson Makes a Painting | artnet News". artnet News. 2016-09-08. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  15. ^, Familiar,. "Lorna Simpson - Salon 94". Salon94. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  16. ^ Bonney, Grace (2016). In the Company of Women. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company. ISBN 9781579655976.
  17. ^ Beck, Koa; Simpson, Lorna (March 18, 2017). "These Women in the Arts Don't Take No for an Answer". Vogue. Retrieved 2017-03-04.
  18. ^ "Art Hoe Collective meet Lorna Simpson | Tate". Retrieved 2017-03-04.
  19. ^ National Gallery of Art (2005-05-04). "National Gallery of Art Acquires Important Contemporary Works by Brodthaers, Lewitt, Morris, and Simpson." Archived 2007-06-10 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Rony, Fatimah Tobing (1996-01-01). The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822318407.
  21. ^ a b Reckitt, Helena (2001). Art and feminism. London; New York, NY: Phaidon. p. 139. ISBN 0714835293.
  22. ^ "MoMA | Lorna Simpson. May, June, July, August '57/'09 #8. 2009". Retrieved 2019-03-14.
  23. ^ Tate. "Twenty Questions (A Sampler), Lorna Simpson 1986 | Tate". Tate. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  24. ^ "Corridor (2003)". Vimeo. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  25. ^ Robinson, Jontyle Theresa (1997). Simpson, Lorna. St. James Guide to Black Artists. St. James Press.
  26. ^ a b c d "Simpson, Lorna". Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  27. ^ Vincent, Alice (12 May 2014). "Richard Mosse wins Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  28. ^ "lll (Three Wishbones in a Wood Box)". Minneapolis Institute of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  29. ^ "Counting". Minneapolis Institute of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  30. ^ "Lorna Simpson, Five day forecast". Tate. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  31. ^ "Untitled (What should fit here...)". Minneapolis Institute of Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  32. ^ "Wigs (Portfolio)". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  33. ^ Glueck, Grace (2002-10-25). "ART IN REVIEW; Lorna Simpson -- '31' and 'Cameos and Appearances'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-19.
  34. ^ "30 Americans participate in one extraordinary exhibit". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  35. ^ "30 Americans". Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  36. ^ "Lorna Simpson". Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  37. ^ "Salon 94". Salon94. Retrieved 2019-03-19.
  38. ^ "Brooklyn Museum: Lorna Simpson: Gathered". Retrieved 2017-03-11.