Artist Simone Leigh has been selected to represent the United States in the 59th Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most highly regarded contemporary art exhibitions. Leigh’s work will be presented in 2022 by the Institute of Contemporary Art, extending a recent string of Boston-area institutions that have been selected to organize the US Pavilion.
Leigh, who works in sculpture, video, and installation, will be the first Black woman to represent the United States at the Venice exhibition, according to ICA director Jill Medvedow. She will present a predominantly new body of work at the show, which will be on view from April 23 to Nov. 27, 2022.
Leigh’s name was submitted by the ICA, where Medvedow is cocommissioning the exhibition with chief curator Eva Respini. The museum is also organizing the first midcareer survey of Leigh’s work, which will include pieces from the Biennale, scheduled to open in Boston in 2023.
Medvedow said the ICA had already been working with Leigh on the 2023 survey show when the staff submitted her name for the Venice exhibition, which was originally scheduled for 2021 but was postponed due to the pandemic.
“Our relationship with her was deepening,” Medvedow said. “She’s an artist who after several decades of being hard at work building her career deserves the world stage, and whose ideas about the experiences and histories of Black women make her, really, an artist of our time.”
Leigh, who declined to comment according to an ICA spokesperson, previously had solo shows at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, among others.
Her work often incorporates aspects of African art and the African diaspora, grappling with ideas of race, gender, and history. For the Biennale, Leigh will create a monumental bronze sculpture as well as a series of figurative works in ceramic, bronze, and raffia.
Every two years, museums and institutions from around the country compete for the honor of organizing the US Pavilion at the prestigious exhibition.
With today’s selection, the ICA joins two other area institutions that in recent years have beat out the competition. In 2015, the MIT List Visual Arts Center presented work by performance and video artist Joan Jonas. And in 2017, the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University presented work by abstract artist Mark Bradford.
For Leigh’s exhibition, Medvedow and Respini will work with the Atlanta University Center Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective, which trains Black students for careers in the arts. Nikki Greene, an assistant professor of art at Wellesley College, and Paul Ha, director of MIT’s List center, will act as advisors.
Respini, who in a statement called Leigh “one of the most gifted and respected artists working today,” said the artist’s new work would address what she calls “an ‘incomplete archive’ of Black feminist thought, with works inspired by leading Black intellectuals.”
Respini added that Leigh’s work “insists on the centrality of Black female forms within the cultural sphere, and serves as a beacon in our moment.”
Malcolm Gay can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay.