An Artist Ascendant: Simone Leigh Moves Into the Mainstream

An Artist Ascendant: Simone Leigh Moves Into the Mainstream


Ms. Molesworth, in her essay, said she has come around to Ms. Leigh’s point of view, having once been put off by it. “Given the lack of any such systematic inclusion of black women in the fields of Western culture,” she wrote, “this recalibration seems both deeply necessary and positively exhilarating.”

Despite Ms. Leigh’s formal engagement with sculpture, she never went to art school but instead earned her bachelor’s degree in art and philosophy at Earlham College in Indiana.

When she first moved to New York, she worked in an architectural ceramics firm, reproducing tiles for the subway. She lived in Williamsburg, married her roommate, got a Volvo and a brownstone and “was really unhappy.”

They divorced and shared custody of their daughter, Zenobia, now 22 and interested in photography.

Ms. Leigh said she felt as if her career really started in 2010 with a residency at the Studio Museum. Thelma Golden, its director, said she was struck by Ms. Leigh’s “commitment to her medium, the way she was invested in clay — its history, its connection to African Art and African-American art.”

The artist’s work now sells for $40,000 to $125,000.

In 2016, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., included her sculptures in a group exhibition. “They have a fabulous presence,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, the museum’s director, “something both so contemporary and ancestral.”

Also that year, Ms. Leigh had a solo exhibition at the Hammer. “Her approach to social practice — which insists that institutions expand their purview to create more space for a diversity of representations of black women,” said Ann Philbin, the museum’s director, “have encouraged museums to be more attentive to the needs of these audiences.”

Among her many loyal collectors is Mr. Fuhrman, who keeps the bust he bought at the Art Show, the annual fair of the Art Dealers Association of America, prominently displayed in his living room. The sculpture sits alongside works by Cy Twombly, Cindy Sherman and Jenny Saville. “It gets comments as much as any work that we have,” Mr. Fuhrman said. “It’s just a beautiful thing.”


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