Friday, November 5, 2010

Feature: Lorna Simpson / Harold Washington Library

A few weeks ago I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in nerd-dom doing art history research at the Harold Washington Public Library in downtown Chicago. The 8th floor is where all of the art books reside, and while my ravenous intellectual fingers were dismayed to realize that practically every art book in a public library is special collections and/ or reference (and therefore not touchable or browseable by the common woman, but must be personally requested), I still had a really good time. I'm quite sure I worried the reference desk attendant however, by showing her a list of over 20 items that I wanted to see. Academic libraries, and access to material, has spoiled me dreadfully.

Regardless, my quest was for books about Christopher Wool, research in preparation for the current Sound on Sound exhibit at Corbett vs. Dempsey, but I discovered many other wonderful things in the process. (Aside: the catalogue for the Hammer Museum's 2008 exhibition Oranges & Sardines: Conversations about Abstract Painting is really quite good. The title comes from a stellar Frank O'Hara poem, Why I Am Not A Painter, which you can, and should, read here. This particular catalogue can actually be requested through inter-library loan in Chicago, and is recommended as a resource for anyone interested in contemporary abstract art. The premise of the show was to ask abstract painters to list artists and artworks which influence them, and to create an exhibition around both the contemporary work and the tangential, inflential work. I wish I could have seen it in person).

In my journey up to the 8th floor, however, I came across a surprising fact: the Harold Washington Public Library has an art collection! The list of current and upcoming exhibitions can be found here, and currently Christine Perri has work on display. Mitchiko Itatani has a huge painting in one of the first floor stairwells, and (my personal favorite) one of Lorna Simpson's photograph-sculptures is featured prominently by the elevators on the 8th floor. I couldn't find an image of the exact piece, but it's very similar to the work below (titled Flipside) which is part of the Guggenheim's collection.

 Flipside, 1991. © Lorna Simpson
Two gelatin silver prints and engraved plastic plaque, diptych, edition 2/3, 51 1/2 x 70 inches (130.8 x 177.8 cm) overall . 
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Purchased with funds contributed by the Photography Committee  2007.32. 

Simpson's text is usually what draws me in. Her sense of humor is quiet yet unabashedly satirical, and the simple aesthetic (the black & white photography, the typography, labels, etc) that she often uses makes her work misleadingly "retro" and safe.

I was first exposed to Simpson at the very beginning of college, via a 2008 exhibition at the College of Wooster Art Museum curated by a wonderful art history professor, John Siewert, and organized by the talented and resourceful Kitty McManus-Zurko. Lorna Simpson's work has haunted me ever since. The 1960s nostalgia her work evokes (and ultimately destroys) probably has something to do, for me, with those young, heady college days. I was also reminded of her contemporary work while visiting Minneapolis' Walker Art Center earlier this spring in the small but powerful exhibition titled, Recollection: Lorna Simpson.

 Lorna Simpson, Wigs II (1996-2006), waterless lithographs on felt. 
N.B. This image is from Simpson's website, but I believe the Walker owns a smaller version of this piece, Wigs (portfolio), from 1994.

As a printmaker, the piece Wigs II, shown above, blew me away. Lithographs on felt! Of course! So tactile and simple, so elegant, and so surreal. You can see much more of Simpson's work on her website here.

I hope, if you are able, that you make a trek to the Harold Washington library to see Simpson's work, and explore enough to find other hidden gems that are part of the collection.

No comments:

Post a Comment