Simone Leigh presents Brick House, a 16-foot-tall bronze bust of a Black woman with a torso that combines the forms of a skirt and a clay house. The sculpture’s head is crowned with an afro framed by cornrow braids, each ending in a cowrie shell. Brick House is the inaugural commission for the High Line Plinth, a new landmark destination for major public artworks in New York City. This is the first monumental sculpture in Leigh’s Anatomy of Architecture series, an ongoing body of work in which the artist combines architectural forms from regions as varied as West Africa and the Southern United States with the human body. The title comes from the term for a strong Black woman who stands with the strength, endurance, and integrity of a house made of bricks.
Brick House references numerous architectural styles: Batammaliba architecture from Benin and Togo, the teleuk dwellings of the Mousgoum people of Cameroon and Chad, and the restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, Mississippi. The sculpture contrasts sharply against the landscape it inhabits, where glass-and-steel towers shoot up from among older industrial-era brick buildings, and where architectural and human scales are in constant negotiation. Resolutely facing down 10th Avenue, Leigh’s powerful Black female figure challenges us to consider the architecture around us, and how it reflects customs, values, priorities, and society as a whole.
Leigh works across sculpture, video, installation, and social practice, stitching together references from different historical periods and distant geographical locations. As a sculptor, Leigh works predominantly in ceramics—a medium that she mastered early in her career—continually pushing the boundaries of her chosen material by working in new methods and larger scales. In her intersectional practice, Leigh focuses on how the body, society, and architecture inform and reveal one another. She 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 US, and the Caribbean.
The High Line Plinth presents a series of art installations that rotate every eighteen months. Designed as the focal point of the Spur, the newest section of the park that opened in spring 2019, the Plinth is the first space on the High Line dedicated solely to new commissions of contemporary art.
Related: Celebrating Medicinal Plants
Simone Leigh (b. 1967, Chicago, Illinois) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Recent solo exhibitions of her work have been presented at institutions including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York (2019), 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, New York (2019, 2012).
Major support of the High Line Plinth comes from a dedicated group of contemporary art leaders and philanthropists. The High Line Plinth Committee supports the realization and success of major art commissions on the Plinth. The 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.