Who Is the Activist Sculptor Simone Leigh? Here Are 5 Things to Know About This Year’s Hugo Boss Prize Winner

Look for her work across New York next year and catch the final day of her Chelsea show.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: (L-R) CEO and Chairman of HUGO BOSS AG Mark Langer, Artist Simone Leigh and Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation Richard Armstrong speak onstage as Hugo Boss Prize 2018 Artists Dinner at the Guggenheim Museum on October 18, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Hugo Boss Prize 2018) *** Local Caption *** Richard Armstrong;Simone Leigh;Mark Langer

Chicago-born artist Simone Leigh is having quite a year. On Thursday, she won the prestigious Hugo Boss Prize for 2018, the latest in a string of accolades including art prizes, prestigious commissions, and solo exhibitions. The award comes with $100,000 and a solo show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, slotted for this April. Leigh, who is the 12th artist to receive the award, was selected by a jury of international critics and curators. The award, made possible by fashion designer Hugo Boss, was established in 1996 to recognize significant achievement in contemporary art and is overseen by the Guggenheim.

Though Leigh’s star has been rising fast, audiences beyond the contemporary art world are just beginning to become familiar with her oeuvre. There will be plenty of chances to see her work in New York in multiple locations in the coming year. In the meantime, here are five things to know about the artist.

1. She focuses on African art and ethnography.

Leigh’s practice—including sculpture, video, and installation—reflects her ongoing exploration of black female subjectivity and ethnography. Her artworks frequently incorporate materials and forms traditionally associated with African art and the African diaspora, while her performance-related installations often blend historical precedent with personal stories.

At the most recent edition of the Art Dealers Association of America-backed Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory, Leigh presented a row of eye-catching ceramic female busts with rosette heads and torsos fashioned out of raffia palm. They quickly sold out, the New York Times reported, to prominent contemporary collector and FLAG Art Foundation founder Glenn Fuhrman. Other buyers took notice and it “may have been the moment” when the artist moved into the mainstream, the Times said.

Simone Leigh's <i>Brick House</i> will be unveiled on the High Line's Plinth in April 2019.<br>Rendering by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Courtesy of the City of New York

Simone Leigh’s Brick House will be unveiled on the High Line’s Plinth in April 2019.
Rendering by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Courtesy of the City of New York

2. She is the inaugural artist for the High Line’s new “Plinth” program.

Leigh, who now lives and works in Brooklyn, was the first artist selected for the High Line’s new “Plinth” program, a rotating series of large-scale artworks that will be installed on the elevated park on the far West Side of Manhattan at Tenth Avenue and West 30th Street. For the Plinth, Leigh created Brick House, a 16-foot-tall bronze bust of a black woman whose torso is conflated with the shape of a skirt and a clay house. The figure will stand tall on the Plinth, looking out over Tenth Avenue. The April unveiling will coincide with her Guggenheim show,

Simone Leigh, <i>Cupboard VIII</i> (2018). ©Simone Leigh; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Simone Leigh, Cupboard VIII (2018). ©Simone Leigh, courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

3. She just had her solo Chelsea debut—and it’s about to wrap up.

Last chance! The artist’s solo debut show at Luhring Augustine’s Chelsea gallery, featuring new sculptures, closes on Saturday (October 20). The New Yorker called it one of the most important shows of the season, citing its “references to racist Americana, ancient Roman and Egyptian artifacts, and ‘face jugs’ made by enslaved African-American potters.”

Simone Leigh, <i>Brick House</i> (2018) (in progress). A High Line Plinth. Photo by Timothy Schenck. Courtesy of Friends of the High Line

Simone Leigh, Brick House (2018) (in progress). A High Line Plinth. Photo by Timothy Schenck. Courtesy of Friends of the High Line

4. Her auction prices are rising fast.

To date, just three of Leigh’s artworks have appeared on the auction block, and all have exceeded expectations. To date, the highest auction price is $43,750, which was paid for Overburdened with Significance (2011), a mixed-media sculptural work, sold at Sotheby’s New York last November. An untitled 2012 salt-glazed porcelain sculpture that resembles a cowrie shell sold at Phillips London earlier this month for $36,000 (£27,000). The consignor had acquired it from the Tilton Gallery, where Leigh showed previously.

Installation view of Simone Leigh solo show at the Hammer Museum. © Simone Leigh; courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

5. The Hugo Boss Prize is just the tip of the awards iceberg.

In addition to the Hugo Boss Prize, the artist has received a Foundation for Contemporary Art Grant (2018), a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2016), and the Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2016). Beyond awards, her work has been in high demand for the last few years. She was included in the New Museum’s “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and as a Weapon” (2017), as well as “The Waiting Room” (2016) and Creative Time’s project, The Free People’s Medical Clinic (2014). She also had a solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2016.

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