AFTER WINNING the 2018 Hugo Boss Prize in October, Simone Leigh is presenting an exhibition of new work at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Featuring a suite of sculptures and a sound installation, “The Hugo Boss Prize 2018: Simone Leigh, Loophole of Retreat” opens April 12.
The Hugo Boss Prize has been awarded to 12 artists since 1996. Leigh is the first black artist to win the biannual prize, which includes $100,000 and a solo exhibition at the museum. The title she chose for the exhibition is inspired by the writings of Harriet A. Jacobs (1813-1897), one of the few women known to have authored a slave narrative.
SIMONE LEIGH, “The Village Series #4,” 2018 (stoneware, 45.1 x 21 x 25.4). |© Simone Leigh, Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
Throughout her career, Brooklyn-based Leigh has consistently and insistently focused on the black female experience. Best known for her ceramic works, Leigh’s multidisciplinary practice spans sculpture, video, and social practice. The exhibition announcement further described her practice:
Her sculptural forms, rendered in materials such as ceramic and bronze, unify a timeless beauty with valences that are both deeply personal and piercingly political. Summoning the ancient archetype of the female nude and inflecting it with vernacular and folk traditions, Leigh merges the human body with domestic vessels or architectural elements, evoking the immeasurable labors of care and protection that have historically fallen to women.
“Summoning the ancient archetype of the female nude and inflecting it with vernacular and folk traditions, Leigh merges the human body with domestic vessels or architectural elements, evoking the immeasurable labors of care and protection that have historically fallen to women.” — Guggenheim
Exploring the “narratives of communal nurture, resilience, and resistance,” the exhibition will be accompanied by a text by Columbia University historian Saidiya Hartman, made available as a broadsheet. In addition, a daylong conference “dedicated to the intellectual life of black women,” will gather artists, writers, poets, scholars, activists, and filmmakers on April 27.
“Loophole of Retreat,” the title of the exhibition and public program, references the slave narrative of Jacobs, who was born in Edenton, N.C. She authored “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” a gripping account that centers her fugitive experience. For seven harrowing years, Jacobs hid in a small crawl space in her grandmother’s attic.
In the book, Chapter 21 is called “Loophole of Retreat,” describing Jacobs’s circumstances. She wrote, “The garret was only nine feet long and seven wide. The highest part was three feet high, and sloped down abruptly to the loose board floor. There was no admission for either light or air.” Her endurance reflects the strength and fortitude represented in Leigh’s female forms.
This spring, Leigh’s work is on view in multiple venues around the city. In addition to the Guggenheim exhibition, she is participating in the 2019 Whitney Biennial (May 17-Sept. 22), and her she is presenting a 16-foot sculpture for the inaugural High Line Plinth. CT
“The Hugo Boss Prize 2018: Simone Leigh, Loophole of Retreat” is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, N.Y., April 19–Aug. 4, 2019
FIND MORE about Simone Leigh’s work in an essay by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts excerpted from the exhibition catalog
“The Hugo Boss Prize 2018,” a special slipcase volume from the Guggenheim Museum, features six foldout posters each dedicated to one of the finalists for the prize. The artist’s work is illustrated on one side of the poster and an essay about their work appears on the reverse. The contributing writers include Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, who writes about Simone Leigh’s work; Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, who considers the work of Emeka Ogbo; and Fred Moten, who collaborates with boychild and Wu Tsang on a text about Tsang’s work. Columbia University historian Saidiya Hartma is the author of the recently published book “Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval.” Her titles also include “Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route” and “Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (Race and American Culture).”
SIMONE LEIGH, “100 (Face Jug Series),” 2018 (salt-fired stoneware, 69.8 x 40.6 x 40.6 cm). | © Simone Leigh, Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
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