For the inaugural High Line Plinth, Simone Leigh presents Brick House, a sixteen-foot-tall bronze bust of a black woman whose torso is conflated with the forms of a skirt and a clay house. The figure will stand tall and monumental atop the Plinth, gazing resolutely down 10th Avenue. Her head is crowned with an afro, framed by cornrow braids along her hairline that extend off her scalp into four braids, each ending with a cowrie shell. The domed shape of her shoulders and bust are adorned with a pattern of elongated ridges. Brick House, titled after the expression popularized by the 1977 Motown song by The Commodores, is the first monumental work in Anatomy of Architecture, Leigh’s continuing series of sculptures that combine architectural forms from regions as varied as West Africa and the American South with the human body. The sculpture references numerous architectural styles: Batammaliba architecture from Benin and Togo; the teleuk of the Mousgoum people of Cameroon and Chad; and the restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard from the southern U.S. All three references inform both the formal elements of the work—the conflated image of woman and architecture—and its conceptual framework.
Leigh’s Brick House will be centered on the Spur, standing in sharp contrast to the disparate elements of the immediate architectural landscape. The Plinth is the focal point of the Spur, a site whose architectural and human scales are in constant vertiginous negotiation, surrounded by a competitive landscape of glass-and-steel towers shooting up from among older industrial-era brick buildings. In this space, Leigh’s magnificent black female figure challenges visitors to think more immediately about the architecture around them, and how it reflects customs, values, priorities, and society as a whole.
Simone Leigh works across sculpture, video, installation, and social practice, stitching together references from different historical periods and distant geographical locations. In her densely researched practice, Leigh focuses on how the body, society, and architecture inform and reveal one another. In tandem, Leigh examines the construction of black female subjectivity, both through specific historical figures such as Josephine Baker and Katherine Dunham, and more generally through overlapping historical lineages across Europe, Africa, the U.S., and the Caribbean. Her intersectional practice draws on a range of disciplines, including the history of architecture, ethnography, feminist discourse, folklore, dance, and histories of political resistance. For Leigh, “architecture is a text that we can read to understand the ontological, philosophical, and psychological expressions of a culture.”
Simone Leigh (b. 1968, Chicago, Illinois) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Recent solo exhibitions of her work have been presented at institutions including the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California (2016); The Studio Museum in Harlem in Marcus Garvey Park, New York, New York (2016); Tate Exchange at Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom (2016); Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri (2016); New Museum, New York, New York (2016); and Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, Atlanta, Georgia (2014). Notable group exhibitions include Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon, New Museum, New York, New York (2017-2018); Regarding the Figure, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York (2017); Round 46: BWA for BLM, curated by Leigh, Project Row Houses, Houston, Texas (2015); The Grace Jones Project, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, California (2016); Unconventional Clay: Engaged in Change, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri (2016); Greater New York, MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York (2015); and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, traveling to Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, Texas; Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, New York; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, California (2012-2015). Leigh’s work has been presented in international group exhibitions including Dak’art 2014, the 11th Biennial of Contemporary African Art, Dakar, Senegal (2014) and the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2012).
Major support for the High Line Plinth comes from the High Line Plinth Committee, a group of contemporary art leaders committed to realizing major commissions and engaging in the public success of the Plinth. The High Line Plinth Committee includes Shelley Fox Aarons, Fairfax Dorn, Andrew Hall, Hermine Riegerl Heller, J. Tomilson Hill, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Donald R. Mullen, Jr., Mario J. Palumbo, Jr., and Anonymous.
Lead support for High Line Art comes from Amanda and Don Mullen. Major support for High Line Art is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston, and Charina Endowment Fund. High Line Art is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council, under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson.