Hauser & Wirth London | Savile Row
23 Savile Row
March 1 - April 28
American politics is tragically comic, with a hyperawareness of injustice matched only by often-futile attempts to generate change. For decades, Lorna Simpson has keenly observed this closed loop of progress and regression in the fight for civil rights across the United States. Ice is her latest tool in this Sisyphean labor for equality. Simpson asks viewers to read ice as both a symbol of endurance and an allusion to how the government freezes black people out of society through mass incarceration and other methods of disenfranchisement.
Opening the exhibition is a wall of forty small photocollages that together compose the show’s title work, Unanswerable (all works cited, 2018). Many of the images are hybrids, matching a black woman’s head to another body, be it human or animal. Alarmingly, a handful of collages depict black women testifying in court, mountains of snow accumulating around them. Will their testimonies be heard? Will they be trusted? The work is a clever prologue to the show, establishing the thematic connections between ice and distortion.
Behind a wall, we see one of Simpson’s collages realized in three dimensions. Frostbitten and forlorn, Woman on Snowball is an image of despondency. Huddled in a fetal position, she casts a gloomy look across the gallery. Below her gaze is 12 Stacks, a suite of makeshift sculptures composed of Ebony and Jet magazines (documents of black pride and glamour), found stools, and glass shaped to resemble ice blocks. The blocks disfigure the magazines, warping cover models into nightmarish forms and clownish distortions. With the figures’ eyes bulging and their lips pursed, the visual trickery reminds the viewer that even innocent-looking items can have racial dimensions; everything is politically coded. An image may last, but a caricature lingers.