Simone Leigh’s eagerly anticipated solo presentation in the US pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale, which was postponed by a year from its spring 2021 start date due to Covid-19, will be titled Grittin and be accompanied by educational initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic and a three-day symposium in Venice, in addition to her trademark large-scale bronze and ceramic sculptures.
In a virtual preview today, pavilion co-commissioners Jill Medvedow and Eva Respini also announced that, after its run in Venice, Grittin will form the core of Leigh’s first museum survey, to be held in 2023 at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Boston, where Medvedow serves as director and Respini as chief curator.
“Simone really pushes the limits of her materials through both method and scale,” Respini said, noting that Leigh is making full size clay models rather than scale maquettes for works that will be cast in bronze for the Venice exhibition. Many of the works destined for the US pavilion are being made by Philadelphia’s Stratton Sculpture Studios, which also created the monumental sculpture Brick House (2019) that Leigh made for the High Line park in New York.
Education and exchange will also be significant components of the exhibition. This semester 11 students at Spelman College, a historically Black university in Atlanta, Georgia, have taken a seminar course on Leigh’s work organised with the ICA. Meanwhile, some middle and high school teachers in Italy’s Veneto have followed a programme, organised in partnership with the Venice-based Peggy Guggenheim Collection, to facilitate educational programmes about and school visits to Leigh’s exhibition next year.
In the closing months of the pavilion’s run (23 April-27 November 2022), the three-day symposium “Loophole of Retreat: Venice” will bring artists and scholars together in Venice to consider the work, histories and achievements of Black women. The event, which will build on a similar gathering held in 2019 during Leigh’s solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, is being organised by Rashida Bumbray, the director of culture and art at the Open Society Foundations.
Details of Leigh’s monumental and multipronged presentation at the Venice Biennale—where she will be the first Black woman to represent the US—come after a period of major changes for the artist. In late October she split with Hauser & Wirth, the global mega-gallery she had joined less than two years prior. A month later, she signed with Matthew Marks, a highly respected but significantly smaller gallery.
Additional details of Leigh’s Venice pavilion are outlined on a dedicated website launched earlier this autumn.