los-angeles

Lorna Simpson

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA)

In the conclusion of his catalogue essay for Lorna Simpson’s recent survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Okwui Enwezor writes: “A portrait of a black person hanging in a museum is usually disturbing to viewers.” A strange claim. It’s not just Enwezor’s haunted syntax (is it a portrait of a black person, a portrait of a black person hanged, or the conflation of both that disturbs?) that’s problematic, it’s that—in an era when homage is paid to Jean-Michel Basquiat in the form of a limited-edition Reebok sneaker (the “Reebopper”)—his assertion seems a sweeping generalization at best.

Enwezor’s claim is built on what he calls Simpson’s “iconography of the racial sublime,” but in most of her work it is more a racial unconscious and a set of uninterrogated racial fantasies that are performed, in which identity has a straightforward, indexical relation to a body photographed or filmed. Rarely

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