5 – 7 May 2017
Randall’s Island Park
New York NY
In a body of work made for this exhibition at Frieze New York, American artist Lorna Simpson continues to explore notions of identity, gender, and history in a riveting series of new paintings. Simpson’s canvases are complemented by new sculptures, with the artist taking up the medium for the first time in 20 years.
Here as in earlier works, Simpson is sparing with color. Her disciplined palette consists of inky blacks, grays, and a startling acid blue that has only recently appeared in her oeuvre, contributing to its atmosphere of bristling movement. Simpson appropriates images from her collection of vintage Jet and Ebony magazines, layering these with Associated Press photographs of natural elements – ice in particular – and washes of saturated ink. Teetering between figuration and abstraction, these paintings juxtapose the calculated glamour of glossy magazines with the brute force of the natural world. By playing with both construction and destruction, Simpson’s canvases immerse viewers in layers of bewitching paradoxes.
Alongside her new paintings, Simpson will present a new series of sculptures that take up similar themes. Six hundred bronze ‘bracelets’ are pinned to the wall in a shimmering cloud that seems to hover and undulate with the same energy generated by the canvases. Nearby are Simpson’s stacked sculptures, including a Brancusi-like bronze cast of a found laundry bin and vintage magazines, and glistening ‘ice’ blocks made of glass.
The messages of Simpson’s sculpture are layered and multivalent, with metaphor, metonymy, and formal prowess combining in a potent response to American life today. Simpson explains, ‘Conceptually, this is in tandem with what I’m experiencing emotionally but also to what, I feel, is going on politically: the idea of being relentlessly consumed.’ Her new works also offer a complex treatise on time, underscoring the present’s umbilical relation to the past. Her use of ice recalls the expression to be ‘on ice’, or in prison, as well as Eldridge Cleaver’s 1968 book ‘Soul on Ice’, written while the renowned activist was incarcerated in Folsom State Prison. Prison is, of course, where one does time. And yet, Simpson remarks, ‘There’s something about ice that has come into the work that indicates either freezing or endurance.’ And indeed, in spite of the chaos erupting around them, the figures in Simpson’s canvases coolly stare back, persevering in spite of being ‘relentlessly consumed.’