Author: Joey Yates
In 2015 KMAC presented a solo exhibition of work by the artist Simone Leigh. At that time, Leigh was considered an emerging artist in the spheres of international contemporary art
, with exhibitions at the Atlanta contemporary, the Kitchen in NYC, and a high-profile public art project with Creative Time called Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn. Her insights and scholarship on the customs, craft traditions and vernacular architectures of west and southern Africa were being channeled into a growing, internationally known, sculptural practice that challenged our understanding of how visual culture in America and Western Europe has evolved over the past several centuries. More specifically, her investigations into the gendered histories of functional objects and craft materials were a perfect fit for KMAC, providing the museum with an important exploration of both our former and future goals as an institution at the forefront of showcasing the intersections of art and material culture. In the last five years Leigh has subsequently become one of the most celebrated artists in America with projects and exhibitions at major museums around the world, including the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Tate Modern in London, as well as the New Museum, the Whitney Museum, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and numerous others. Her voice and her work have become indispensable to how we discuss art history. She is now perhaps most known for inaugurating the High Line Plinth project in New York with a 16-foot-tall bronze bust of a Black woman called Brick House. The torso is a hybrid form that references a skirt and a clay house, while the female head is crowned with an afro and cornrow braids, each ending with her signature cowrie shell. While her practice has been focused on black female subjectivity, her success has become a benchmark for other artists who are exploring similar selfhoods from the perspectives of what it means to be indigenous, Latinx, or Queer in the United States.
Her KMAC exhibition, “Crop Rotation,” focused on situations that highlight the central roles that women perform as caretaker and laborer. The objects and installations that she creates often reveal shapes associated with the female form, as they embody the professions of cooking, nursing, teaching, farming and the unpaid job of motherhood. The nine works in the show further examined her interests in community, beauty and race. While she primarily produces ceramic and other sculptural objects, her KMAC presentation also consisted of works in photography, video and installations that incorporated found objects and materials, such as tobacco, rocks, a baby carriage and a stained glass window salvaged from a destroyed church.
References to the traditional forms of Nigerian water pots have been a staple in Leigh’s practice since she first began experimenting with ceramics. For Stack II she returned to the form by gilding one of her own pots and placing it atop a carved wooden pole that suggests a female figure carrying the pot on her head. The combination of the gold leaf and expert woodcarving provides her sculpture with a regal, heroic and queen like quality, serving as a totemizing gesture to the routine female activity of making the pot, as well as the task of procuring the water. Stack II was one of three commissioned works in show. The others, Cupboard II and Fleur-de-lis, were more ephemeral in nature, but equally as iconic with respect to her artistic production at the time. Thanks to KMAC donors Julie and William C. Ballard we were able to add Stack II to our permanent collection and keep the work here in Louisville.