Simon Leigh, two decades of art: inspiration and influence

credits ©ICA, Boston

Simon Leigh in Venice

I admired for the first time the monumental works of Simon Leigh, created for the Biennale of Venice 2022 at the American Pavilion in the Giardini of Castello, where she represented her country and was also invited by the curator Cecilia Alemani, in fact she won the Golden Lion, as best artist of the Biennale.

During the three-days-symposium on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore: Simone Leigh: Sovereignty at the U.S. Pavilion (October 20223), when I listened to her lecture, I had the impression of an artist, who didn’t expect to be so successful, even if it’s clear that, there is a hard work behind her success.

So, it was a pleasure to be invited to visit the first monograph exhibition of the artist Simon Leigh in Boston, and I’d like to share with you this virtual visit with some pictures and impressions of this exposition.

The relationship between the Venice Biennale exhibition and the Boston Ica exposition

The exhibition in Boston displays recent and new works made largely within the past five years and culminates with Leigh’s historic Venice exhibition, presented at the ICA in a sequence that evokes the layout of the U.S. Pavilion.  

When you study Italian or European Art History, you learn how important the correct context is for the artworks (exposition, light, sizes). In fact, a painting or sculpture created for a church should be seen in the original place for which the artist created it. The same rule can be applied to the site- specific art installations.

Theses rules change with contemporary art, that is no longer created to be displayed in a specific place. In fact when you look at the pictures of the installations by Simon Leigh at the Venice Biennale, compared to the ones at the Ica Exposition, you can have a different feeling, because the exhibition venues are completely different.

The American Pavillon in Venice is a small, traditional neoclassical building built by Adam Delano and Holmer Andrichin in 1930 (here is my link), The Ica Museum is a modern architecture, so, for example, the sculpture Satellite that dominated, in Venice, the American Pavillon, looks much smaller compared to the contemporary architecture in Boston.

Simon Leigh

The Ica exposition

The Ica exposition gives the opportunity to admire all the recent works by Simon Leigh and two decades of work.

The press release says that: «  the exhibition features works at both intimate and large scales. A selection of Leigh’s table-top ceramic busts point to her fluency in the medium of ceramics, including references to the Black American folk art tradition of stoneware face vessels; these citations are also rehearsed in larger ceramic works, which draw on the vernacular traditions of the American South, Caribbean, and African continent, and challenge traditional hierarchies of art and labor.

Some domestic vessels such as bowls and jugs, cowrie shells, and busts are typical Leigh’s motifs, the artist is able to create these forms forms over time and in various materials, underscores the remarkable consistency of her vision.

In recent large-scale ceramic sculptures, Leigh merges the human body with traditional domestic containers, conjuring black woman’s labor and knowledge production.

©ICA, Boston

The intersection of architecture with the body is also central to her sculpture, such as the work Cupboard IX (2019), seen in the steel cage-like structures that the artist leaves bare or covered with raffia, evoking the womb,skirts, and sub-Saharan dwellings, often built by women and used as gathering spaces ».

Picture, courtesy ICA, Boston

Is Venice an important showcase for artists?

The Venice Biennale is still one of the most  important event in the international visual arts calendar. In fact in 2022 the Biennale was visited by 800.00 people but the Biennale is also close to Art Basel, the important art fair, which is usually opens one week after Venice. International arts festivals have also a role in contributing to national goals such as increasing  cultural tourism and diplomatic power, so every year new countries take part in the Biennale.

While in the past for an artist, inclusion in the Venice Biennale would crown the end of an
artist’s career, now it often marks its beginning of it.

The Venice Biennale is an opportunity that is limited to only a few artists from each nation, who are selected for participation through a competitive process – usually only one to two artists per country are selected every two years-, and sometimes, as it happened to the works of Simon Leigh, they become part of a monograph exposition.

The next Biennale 2024

While we are waiting for the opening of The Biennale Architettura 2023, which will be held from Saturday 20 May to Sunday 26 November, we are curious to know the name of the artist / artists who will represent the United States at the Venice Biennale 2024.

If you desire to discover the Biennale or the contemporary art in Venice, contact me!

Fiorella Pagotto


The U.S. Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia was commissioned by Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director, and Eva Respini, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Barbara Lee Chief Curator, at the ICASimone Leigh is organized by Eva Respini, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Barbara Lee Chief Curator, with Anni A. Pullagura, Curatorial Assistant.

Picture, courtesy ICA, Boston

America AndreaMantegna architecture Art artisans art painting barriers protection bernini Biennale carloscarpa Carpaccio carrierarosalba contemporaryarchitecture contemporaryart corner correr glass gold hightide miniature muranoglass museum Padua painting palaces pastels peggy gugenheim photos portrait Renaissance Rome sculputure surrealism swiss pavillon tarot tide Venice war