About the Photographer
American, b. 1960
"I would hate to think that my work is perceived as a portrayal of victimization. It is not enough for me to relate an experience through the work only to have a viewer say, 'Oh, that's too bad,' and walk away from it. I want to relate the dynamics of a situation, both how that situation occurs and how it affects people's lives. In another sense, the work is not answer-oriented. It's intentionally left open-ended. There's not a resolution that just solves everything." – Lorna Simpson
Always interested in exploring identity through the instant assumptions provided by her use of visual clues, Lorna Simpson took James Van der Zee's photographs as her starting point for 9 Props. Van der Zee was an African-American photographer who made studio portraits of an emerging Black middle class in Harlem in the early twentieth century, complete with painted backdrops and domestic furnishings that suggest the prosperity of his subjects. Made while she was an artist-in-residence at Pilchuck, a glassblowing school in Seattle, Simpson had the artisans recreate the vases that appear in Van der Zee's pictures. She then photographed the objects and later accompanied them with texts. Simpson printed the photographs and texts onto felt, a strategy she began using in the mid-1990s, partly as a reaction against her work being pigeonholed in the literalist category of "political art." By endowing the pictures with tactility and three-dimensionality, Simpson aligns her work with the modernist concern with surface and forms. Keeping the theme uncertain with hazy images and ambiguous text, Simpson's felt panels are lush objects that use photography to distill and delete, rather than document, touching upon issues of class, wealth, and strength of character.
Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Lorna Simpson has been a pre-eminent American artist since the 1980s. Educated at the School of Visual Arts, New York (BFA) and the University of California, San Diego (MFA), she has shown her works at Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Duke University Museum of Art. In addition, she has participated in group shows at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art; and Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. Her works are also held in numerous permanent collections, including those at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.