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date: 04 April 2020

Simpson, Lornafree

American, 20th–21st century, female.

Born 1960, in Brooklyn (New York).

Engraver, photographer, mixed media, installation artist.

Conceptual Art, Identity Art.

Lorna Simpson is an African American artist who combines texts and photographs of black women to explore the experience of African American women in contemporary society. The artist also makes sound installations.

Simpson studied at the University of San Diego and then at the New York School of Visual Arts. She began as a photo-journalist and her work has retained a connection between photograph and text. Simpson’s work portrays the black female body, and its frequent encounters with micro-aggressions and projected stereotypes of black female sexuality. In the series Guarded Conditions (1989–1990), which includes a photograph of a black woman dressed in a large nightshirt or cotton dress, the model is shown six times, while a text printed as a caption alternates the words ‘sex attack’ with the words ‘skin attacks’, inferring that the woman has been sexually attacked because of the colour of her skin and that the condition of being a black woman predisposes her to becoming a rape victim.

In addition to their feminist overtones, the photographs also act as a metaphor for the condition of black people in the USA. The economy of means of the black and white photography and the simple typed text that has been overlaid, gives the work an objective coldness accentuated by the fact that the subject’s back is turned away from the viewer. Affirmation of the feminine presence together with denunciation of injustices in American society are part of the approach of African American artists between 1980 and 1990, like Renee Cox and Betye Saar, who would strategically pair photography and graphics with text. The combination of text and image also derives from the African American narrative tradition which here develops into a political debate.

Recently, Simpson has produced work that includes video narratives about history and fiction. These works were shown at the Brooklyn Museum in 2011 for the exhibition Lorna Simpson: Gathered. The exhibition also included 1957–2009 Interior, a series that combined black-and-white appropriated images from the 1950s and 1960s with self-portraits of Simpson, dressed and poised as the subject of the vintage image.

Group Exhibitions

1984, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

1987, and regularly, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York

1988, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

1990, Venice Biennale

1993, Art Prospekt, Frankfurt

1999, Regarding Beauty: A View of the Late Twentieth Century, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC

2000, A Way with Words: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York

2002, Documenta, Kassel

2002, Miami Currents: Linking Collection and Community, Miami Art Museum

2002, Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

2004, Open House: Working in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York

2005, Collection Remixed, Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York

2005, Contemporary Voices: Works from the UBS Collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York

2006, Masquerade, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

2010, Afro-Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic, Tate Liverpool

2011, Staging Action: Performance in Photography since 1960, Museum of Modern Art, New York

2012, In Light of the Past: 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

2013, Blues for Smoke, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

2014, Body Doubles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

2015, All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale, Venice

2015, Citizens and States – Tate Modern Displays, Tate Modern, London

2015, Greater New York, MoMA PS1, New York

2015, A History: Art, Architecture, Design from the 80s to Now, Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris

2015, I Like it Like This, MASH-UP The Dialogue of Music and Black American Contemporary Art, S|2 Sotheby’s, New York

2015, ICA: In Context, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

2015, Nero su Bianco, American Academy in Rome, Rome

2015, Physical: Sex and the Body in the 1980s, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

2015, Portraits and Other Likenesses from SFMoMA, San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art

2016, CAPP At 10: The Shape of Remembering, Stamp Gallery, University of Maryland, College Park

2016, Nothing Personal: Zoe Leonard, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Gallery 188, Art Institute of Chicago

Solo Exhibitions

1989, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum, Hartford

1990, Museum of Modern Art, New York (travelled to Art Museum of Denver; Portland Art Museum)

1991, Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Art, Buffalo

1993, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston

1994, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

1997, Art Museum, Miami

2002, Centro de Arte Contemporaneo, Salamanca

2002, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York

2002, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

2003, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin

2005, Galerie Nathalie Obaldia, Paris

2006, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

2007, Lorna Simpson: Duet, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York

2008, Ink, Salon 94 Freemans and Salon 94, New York

2009, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Brussels

2010, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

2011, Lorna Simpson: Gathered, Brooklyn Museum, New York

2011, Lorna Simpson: Momentum, Salon 94 Bowery, New York

2013–2014, Lorna Simpson, Jeu de Paume, Paris (travelled to Haus der Kunst, Munich)

2014, Lorna Simpson: Works on Paper, Aspen Art Museum

2015, Art Basel – Unlimited, Art Basel

2016, Focus: Lorna Simpson, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

2016, Lorna Simpson: Lorna Simpson, Salon 94, New York

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Albuquerque (University of New Mexico)

Atlanta (High MA)

Baltimore (MA)

Buffalo (Albright-Knox-Gundlach AG)

Cambridge (Fogg AM, Harvard University)

Champaign (Krannert AM, University of Illinois)

Chicago (AI)

Chicago (Department of Cultural Affairs)

Chicago (MoCA)

Cleveland (MA)

Denver (AM)

Des Moines (AM)

Detroit (IA)

Hartford (Wadsworth Atheneum)

Honolulu (Contemporary Arts Center)

Jerusalem (Israel Mus.)

Kalamazoo (Kalamazoo IA)

London (Tate Modern)

Los Angeles (County MA)

Mayfield Heights (Progressive Corporation)

Miami (AM)

Milwaukee (AM)

Minneapolis (Walker Art Center)

New Haven (Yale AG)

New York (Bronx MA)

New York (Brooklyn MA)

New York (Chase Bank)

New York (Metropolitan MA)

New York (MoMA)

New York (New School for Social Research)

New York (New York Public Library)

New York (Studio Mus. in Harlem)

New York (Whitney Mus. of American Art)

Overland Park (Sprint Corporation Collection)

Paris (Centre National des Arts Plastiques)

Paris (Collection of Foundation Louis Vuitton)

Pleasantville (Reader’s Digest Corporation)

San Diego (MoCA)

San Francisco (MoMA)

St Louis (AM)

Vancouver (Rennie Collection)

Washington, DC (Corcoran GA)

Washington, DC (National GA)

Wellesley (Davis Mus. and Cultural Center, Wellesley College)

Winterthur (Fotomus. Winterthur)

Auction Records

New York, 11 Nov 1993: Water Carrier (photograph and acrylic/Plexiglas, installation, 54½ × 81 ins/138.4 × 205.7 cm) USD 19,550

New York, 23 Feb 1994: Untitled (1989, two black and white engravings on a polyester background framed by the artist with two plastic plaques with printed text, 43½ × 37½ ins/110.5 × 95.3 cm) USD 6,900

New York, 5 May 1994: Reading Proofs (1989, gelatin silver print photograph with plastic in four parts, 42 × 42 ins/106.7 × 106.7 cm) USD 8,050

New York, 8 May 1996: Landscape/Parts of the Body II (1992, montage of two Polaroid engravings with engraved Plexiglas in a frame by the artist, 49½ × 20½ ins/125.7 × 52.1 cm) USD 5,175

New York, 17 Feb 1999: The Bed (1995, serigraph on felt, in four parts, 35 × 22 ins/89 × 56 cm) USD 9,000

New York, 18 Nov 1999: Haze (1998, serigraph on felt, in eight parts, 68 × 69 ins/173 × 175 cm) USD 8,500

New York, 17 Nov 2000: Car (serigraph on felt with text panel, 102 × 104 ins/259 × 264 cm) USD 8,000

New York, 15 May 2001: Untitled – Tondos and Words (two photographs and 11 plastic plaques, 38 × 90 ins/96 × 229 cm) USD 8,000

New York, 18 May 2001: 1978–88 (four photographs and 13 engraved plastic plaques, 48 × 67 ins/123 × 170 cm) USD 9,000

New York, 26 Sept 2002: Haze (1998, serigraph, six panels, 68 × 69 ins/173 × 175 cm) USD 5,500

New York, 12 Nov 2003: Bed (1995, acrylic on felt, four panels, 35 × 20 ins/90 × 51 cm) USD 4,800

New York, 13 May 2004: Myths (1991, photographs, four parts, 43 × 137 ins/109 × 347 cm) USD 13,000

New York, 16 May 2008: The Car (1995, serigraph on felt, each 34 × 26 ins/86.4 × 66 cm) USD 39,400

New York, 13 Nov 2009: Coiffure (1991, three gelatin silver prints and 10 engraved plastic plaques, 81⅝ × 127¼ × 1¾ ins/207.3 × 323.2 × 4.4 cm) USD 21,250

New York, 15 Nov 2009: 15 Mouths (2001–2002, iris prints with letterpress text and embossing, on velour paper mounted on Hahnemühle copperplate, with accompanying audio CD ‘Easy to Remember’, 11 × 9 ins/27.9 × 22.9 cm) USD 5,625

New York, 16 April 2010: Shoe Lover 3 (1992, Polaroid triptych with two engraved Plexiglas plaques, each 24 × 20 ins/61 × 50.8 cm) USD 25,000

New York, 15 May 2010: Counting (1991, photogravure and screen print, 67¾ × 35 ins/172.1 × 88.9 cm) USD 2,500

New York, 8 June 2011: Details Set (1996, screen print on Somerset paper, all 6 × 5 ins/15.2 × 12.7 cm) USD 5,250; Untitled (1993, two glass objects, one etched glass plaque, and one photograph on linen stretched over wood strainers, wishbone a: 5¾ × 3 × ½ ins/14.6 × 7.6 × 1.3 cm; wishbone b: 6¼ × 3½ × ½ ins/15.9 × 8.9 × 1.3 cm; plaque: 10 × 7⅞ × ½ ins/ 25.4 × 20 × 1.3 cm; photo: 10 × 8 × 1⅜ ins/25.4 × 20.3 × 3.5 cm) USD 3,000

New York, 4 April 2012: Untitled (2003, seven Polaroid prints and six plastic text plaques, 34 × 102 ins/86.4 × 259.1 cm overall) USD 25,000

New York, 31 Oct 2012: Counting (1991, photogravure and screen print, on wove paper, with full margins, 68¼ × 34½ ins/173.4 × 87.6 cm) USD 2,375

New York, 28 Oct 2013: 9 Props (1995, waterless lithographs on wool felt, 15¾ × 11¼ × 2¾ ins/40 × 28.6 × 7 cm) USD 7,500; Backdrops circa 1940s (1998, screen prints, on felt panels, full sheets, 26 × 16⅝ ins/66 × 42.2 cm) USD 3,750

New York, 14 Nov 2014: Two works: (i) Condensation; (ii) Composed Blue (2013, collage, ink on paper, each 30¼ × 23⅜ ins/76.8 × 59.4 cm) USD 20,000

New York, 4 April 2016: Lower Region (1992, Polaroid print triptych, 23¼ × 58 ins/59.1 × 147.3 cm) USD 10,000

London, 8 Dec 2016: Interior/Exterior, Full/Empty No. 17 (1997, silver gelatin print mounted on archival mat with silkscreen text, in artist’s frame, diptych, 22½ × 18¼ ins/ 57.2 × 46.2 cm) GBP 2,750

New York, 4 April 2017: Lorna Simpson (1992, Polaroid print triptych, 23¼ × 58 ins/59.1 × 147.3 cm) USD 21,250


  • Jones, Kellie: Lorna Simpson, Phaidon, London, 2002.
  • Enwezor, Okwui, and others: Lorna Simpson, exhibition catalogue, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 2006.