A new edition of Simone Leigh’s monumental sculpture (2022), one of the showstoppers of the artist’s historic U.S. pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale, has entered the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
It is the first piece in the institution’s collection by Leigh, who was the first Black woman artist to represent the U.S. at the biennale. There, she also won the Golden Lion for best participant for her work in the central exhibition, “The Milk of Dreams,” curated by Cecilia Alemani.
An elegantly elongated black bronze sculpture that recalls both an architectural column and an abstracted female form, as well as a traditional African power figure, bears two of the artist’s signature elements. The statue’s head is vessel-like, in the shape of a bowl, and faceless, suggesting both labor and consumption of the body, as well as the historical invisibility of Black women.
The has also become a recurring motif in Leigh’s work. A smaller, similar work, , is part of the collection of the University of Texas at Austin, while , in which a snake is coiled around the body, has been on view at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, since last fall.
“We are thrilled to bring this exceptional work by one of America’s greatest living artists into the collection of the National Gallery of Art,” NGA director Kaywin Feldman said of the sculpture’s acquisition in a statement. “ will stand tall in the East Building’s spacious atrium, a commanding contemporary presence among other monumental works of sculpture by Alexander Calder, Anthony Caro, Isamu Noguchi, and Richard Serra.”
The museum was able to purchase the towering artwork, which stands over 16 feet tall, thanks to a gift from Maryland’s Glenstone Foundation, founded by billionaire art collectors Emily and Mitchell Rales. It will go on view at the museum in September.
Leigh’s first museum survey, featuring many of her works from the Venice exhibition, is currently on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, which commissioned her biennale pavilion.
The touring exhibition will travel to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and to Los Angeles for a joint presentation at the LACMA and the California African American Museum.
Ahead of the National Gallery installation, Leigh will participate in “Completa,” a program at the museum on August 6 featuring a conversation between Leigh and Yasmina Price, a PhD candidate at Yale, moderated by event curator Greg de Cuir Jr., cofounder and artistic director of the Kinopravda Institute in Belgrade.
Born in Chicago in 1967, Leigh draws on feminism, postcolonial theory, and ethnography to create work about race and the female body. Her salt-glazed ceramic and bronze sculptures are influenced not only by African art history but by Southern Americana and early African American folk art.
Leigh’s work is in the collections of institutions including the ICA Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The winner of the 2018 Hugo Boss Prize, Leigh has had New York solo exhibitions with the Guggenheim, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Kitchen, the New Museum, and Weeksville Heritage Center with Creative Time.