“Lorna Simpson’s work has not only challenged stereotypes of African Americans,” says LeRonn Brooks, associate curator at the Getty Research Institute, but also “created a visionary space for the contemplation of humanity itself and what it means to be American, given the complicated cultural inheritances we’ve been given.”

Lorna Simpson has been a pioneering artist for 30 years. She is a leading voice in a generation of American artists questioning constructed historical narratives and the performative crafting of identity. Her work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Walker Art Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and more.

She is one of three Getty Medal recipients for 2019, along with painter, photographer, and bookmaker Ed Ruscha and author and professor of classics Mary Beard.

In this short video, LeRonn Brooks is joined by Dr. Kellie Jones to highlight the power of Simpson’s work.

Transcript

LeRonn Brooks:
Lorna Simpson’s work has not only challenged stereotypes of African-Americans, but created a visionary space for the contemplation of humanity itself and what it means to be American given the complicated and uneven context and cultural inheritances we’ve each been given.

Kellie Jones:
I think the key thing you want to know about Lorna Simpson’s work or Lorna Simpson as an artist is that she’s always experimenting. She’s always on to the next thing.

When Lorna Simpson came on to the scene in the early to mid-1980s, the use of the black female form as she was using it, I don’t think had really been seen in the same way.

Le Ronn Brooks:
Well, I first saw Lorna’s work in a book by Bell Hooks called Art On My Mind, and it was a work called The Water Bearer and it just was the first time I actually saw the sort of dignity and humanity of a black woman photographer actually speaking through black women’s forms to speak about just the reality of what burden can be. But through the lens of giving her humanity.

Kellie Jones:
The earliest work, the figure is turned with her back toward us kind of refuting our gaze, but you can also say that it was a figure that was really contemplating her own thoughts. And that really wasn’t any of our business.

LeRonn Brooks:
Lorna Simpson’s use of Ebony/Jet in her work actually envisioned them as speculative.

Kellie Jones:
It’s in those collage works it’s extending the idea of glamour, but I think it’s also in many ways it’s about caressing the archive and holding it close.

One work called She—I think it’s from the early ’90s—if we’re looking at it from 2019, we realize how far ahead that work was in terms of ideas of trans identity, queering, non-binary, gender and so in a way you can look back at that work and say that was political as well.

LeRonn Brooks:
Lorna Simpson is one of the most versatile artists of the 21st century. In each particular phase of her work, or each particular medium that she explores the drive to make that comes from within and that’s we can’t quantify that we can only look to it for inspiration.

Kellie Jones:
Lorna’s work always makes me laugh because when I see it it’s just like, of course she would do that, of course she would make large paintings, of course she would put text in them, of course she would make sculpture out of Ebony magazine. But could I predict? No, not in all these years that I’ve known her. But in looking back at her career it makes sense the path that she’s taken. Every work is the greatest work. Every work is the most astounding thing that it’s always exciting.

LeRonn Brooks:
Lorna Simpson’s work has not only challenged stereotypes of African-Americans, but created a visionary space for the contemplation of humanity itself and what it means to be American given the complicated and uneven context and cultural inheritances we’ve each bee...