BY ALEX GREENBERGERPlus Icon
“I love and respect the people I worked with at Hauser & Wirth,” Leigh said in a statement. “But I do not feel the gallery is the right fit for me in the wider sense. I’m still figuring out what I want from a primary gallery relationship.”
The news comes as Leigh prepares to represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale in Italy, an event that opens in April. It is rare for artists to depart the world’s largest galleries in general, and rarer still for artists to do so when they have a major project like a retrospective or a monumental commission forthcoming. In 2020, when Leigh joined Hauser & Wirth, she parted ways with New York’s Luhring Augustine and Los Angeles’s David Kordansky Gallery, the latter of which had only represented her for half a year (Luhring Augustine began showing her in 2016).
“Simone Leigh is a wonderful artist whose unique vision has expanded that of others in the world,” Marc Payot, president of Hauser & Wirth, said in a statement. “We wish her future success and look forward to watching her work evolve and surprise in the years to come.”
Leigh is known for her elegant sculptures that center Black women and histories of perseverance related to them. Many times, Leigh appears to cloak her subjects in an air of mystery by representing her female figures without eyes. In making prominent use of objects like cowrie shells and artistic styles derived from West and South African cultures, Leigh alludes to an array of historical figures and events, including the formation of the United Order of Tents, a secret society founded in 1867 by two former enslaved people that convenes Black women nurses.
At Hauser & Wirth’s Zurich gallery, Leigh is currently having a solo show that will run through December 4. Included in that show are works making use of raffia, which partially ensconces some of her figures, in what the artist has said is a reference to marronage, the term for the act of resistance in which Southern enslaved laborers kept themselves hidden.
Leigh’s departure from Hauser & Wirth comes at a moment when her artwork is particularly well-known, with inclusions in highly regarded exhibitions such as the Okwui Enwezor–curated survey “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” which opened earlier this year at the New Museum in New York. Next month, her art is set to appear in the show “Black American Portraits” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; her work is also included in the current Prospect New Orleans triennial. In addition to her Venice Biennale project, which makes her the first Black woman ever to represent the U.S. at the biennial, Leigh is at work on a survey show due to open in 2023 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, the pavilion’s organizing institution.