Artist Simone Leigh photographed at Stratton Sculpture Studios in 2020 (Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis; Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

Artist Simone Leigh will represent the United States at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. The US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs announced the selection today, October 14, making Leigh the first Black woman to represent the country at the prestigious international exhibition.

Leigh’s exhibition at the US pavilion is co-commissioned by Jill Medvedow, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (ICA Boston), and Eva Respini, the institute’s chief curator. The museum is organizing Leigh’s first survey exhibition, which will include works from her Venice Biennale exhibition, in 2023.

Born in Chicago in 1967 and currently based in New York, Leigh has become one of the most prominent American artists working today. Her work, which explores “Black female subjectivity” with hybrid sculptures of Black women, has received wide attention and numerous accolades in recent years. In 2018, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum awarded her the Hugo Boss Prize. A year later, her work was included in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Her 16-foot-tall bronze “Brick House” (2019) is currently installed on the High Line Plinth in New York City.

Simone Leigh, “Jug” (2019) (photo by David Heald; courtesy of the artist and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

“Leigh’s work is not actually about evading the (likely White and dominant) gaze; it’s about denying it a catalyst by which to act,” wrote Hyperallergic’s critic Seph Rodney in his review of Leigh’s 2019 exhibition Loophole of Retreat at the Guggenheim Museum. “These pieces of art cancel out the gaze because they don’t yet exist in a collective lexicon by which they can be defined,” he continued. “In their hybridity they are incalculable, and in their incalculability they shush the room they occupy.”

According to the ICA, Leigh’s exhibition at the Biennale will include a large-scale bronze sculpture at the US Pavilion’s outdoor forecourt. The Pavilion’s five galleries will include figurative works in ceramic, bronze, and raffia.

“Over the course of two decades, Simone Leigh has created an indelible body of work that centers the experiences and histories of Black women and at such a crucial moment in history, I can think of no better artist to represent the United States,” said Medvedow. “The scale and magnificence of Leigh’s art demands visibility and power; it is probing, timely, and urgent. We are proud and honored to share this work with audiences from around the globe at the next Biennale in Venice.”

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...