los-angeles

Lorna Simpson

The Museum of Contemporary Art (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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