The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, has unveiled a handsome new website that gives a first peek at Simone Leigh’s upcoming commission for the U.S. Pavilion at the next Venice Biennale in 2022. When she was announced as the selected artist, Leigh made history as the first Black woman to helm the U.S.’s storied Venice pavilion.
The new website includes brief overviews of Leigh, the Venice Biennale, the ICA Boston, and several other partners that will make the pavilion come to life, when it opens next April. Among those is Spelman College in Atlanta, which will offer a two-semester course on the Leigh’s art. The course will be taught by art historian julia elizabeth neal, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, and will include guest lectures from the pavilion’s two cocurators ICA Boston director Jill Medvedow and ICA Boston chief curator Eva Respini.
This new website comes almost a week after Leigh made a surprise announcement that she would no longer be represented by international mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, which had only just begun representing her last year. It’s exceedingly rare for artists to leave their galleries ahead of a major project, like the U.S. Pavilion. At the time, Leigh said in a statement, “I do not feel the gallery is the right fit for me in the wider sense. I’m still figuring out what I want from a primary gallery relationship.”
Among the most interesting parts of the site is a short film by Shaniqwa Jarvis, which shows Leigh at work in her studio, creating many of the works that will fill the pavilion next year. We see Leigh, standing on scaffolding, smoothing over, and then incising clay sculptures that will likely then be cast in bronze, as much of her most famous work is. Leigh will also present ceramic works as part of the pavilion. The camera pans over reference images, scale drawings, and the dozens of tools that go into the making of her sculptures of Black women that draw on various histories, as well as her speculative work to fill in the gaps in the archive.
Over the course of the video, several people give insight via voiceovers into Leigh’s practice, including Rashida Bumbray, Open Society Foundations’ director of culture and art, who says, “Simone has persevered because she has an assumption that she would—she knew that she would. Her focus on Black woman subjectivity and, really, Black women’s interior lives is connected to a historical continuum that incorporates architecture, incorporates the ancient. And I think that’s one of the things that makes her work connected to Black women as the first audience.”
Respini adds, “Simone’s work is essential. It’s monumental. It merges cultural languages connected by colonial histories and it makes us reconsider power, visibility, and representation.”