Lorna Simpson

3 May 1988 - 28 May 1988
Opening Reception 3 May 1988 8pm

East Gallery:

Lorna Simpson

Lorna Simpson has established herself as one of the more controversial female artists working in photography in the United States. In her work, Simpson focuses on the relationship between an audience’s collective interpretation of photographic imagery and photography as a descriptive tool. Using large-scale images, she presents the viewer with a portrait of a man or woman who is unidentifiable, yet obliquely described by texts referencing childhood and adult party games, proverbs, bits and pieces of conversation, or clichés such as “black as coal” and “pure as lily”. With this combined usage of photo and text, the artist not only aims at making the viewer question the logic and application of societal clichés, but exposes how clichés shape the roles of women, men, relationships and racism.

This exhibition at Mercer Union follows the artist’s solo exhibitions Screens, at Just Above Midtown (JAM), New York City (1986) and Gestures/Reenactments, at the 5th Street Market Alternative Gallery, San Diego, California (1985). Since 1980, Lorna Simpson’s work has been included in group exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles and, most recently, Documenta 8 in Kassel, West Germany, where she participated in a collaborative installation by Group Material. This exhibition at Mercer Union is Simpson’s first exhibition in Canada, and will incorporate a new format using Polaroid images. Opening Tuesday May 3rd at 8:00 pm, her exhibition continues through Saturday May 28. To complement the exhibition, a public talk by the artist will take place at Mercer Union Wednesday May 4th at 7:30 pm.


Lorna Simpson and Jamelie Hassan
, July 1988
by Lorne Fromer

Contemporary photography finds itself at the crossroads of numerous art practices and concerns. Unfettered by the conventions and “correctness” of previous generations of photographers, contemporary photo-artists are plunging headlong into uncharted waters, driven by new modes of expression and areas of inquiry. Mercer Union recently hosted two challenging photo exhibitions (May 3 – May 28) that incorporate image and text to question values and attitudes in language and myth, and modes of representation.

Jamelie Hassan’s Vitrine 488– collection of objects revolves around her discovery of Claude Levi-Strauss’ 1938 study of a Brazilian tribe. His concern was how women of this tribe have altered their facial appearance through pigment. Hassan’s concern is cultural imperialism. Using an autobiographical text and images from Levi-Strauss’ published work overlaid with her own images, she has created a compelling narrative that questions the roles of anthropology, museums and contemporary travel rituals.

Lorna Simpson‘s exhibition employs large-scale images and texts to expose how cliches maintain outmoded roles for women and men, their relationships and racist undertones of everyday language. While the photos describe a subject, they lack clues associated with personality. They depict body parts – backs of heads, an ear, hands in action, etc. presented in counterpoint to descriptive text fragments gleaned from party games, proverbs, bits and pieces of conversation, and cliches. In our hunger for the specific we are transported to the general where Simpson’s message becomes both clear and enlightening.