By Chadd Scott
The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) presents Rose B. Simpson: Legacies, the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in Boston. The presentation highlights the diversity of Simpson’s (Santa Clara Pueblo) art making through ceramic sculpture, metal work, performance, installation, writing, and automobile design, with an emphasis on recent work.
Highlighting the show are eleven ceramic figurative sculptures for which Simpson has become so celebrated, including three new works on view for the first time.
Legacy (2022), the sculpture which gives the exhibition its title, is a two-part, mother-daughter piece made using a technique Simpson refers to as “slap-slab,” involving repeatedly throwing clay against the floor on a diagonal until it is very thin.
Its theme is reflected throughout the presentation.
“So much of her work deals with questions of caretaking and nurture. So many of her (figures) are about motherhood and taking care of young people and thinking intergenerationally,” exhibition organizer Jeffrey De Blois, associate curator and publications manager at the ICA, told First American Art Magazine. “I have two kids, my oldest is three and a half, and these ideas have been front and center for me since becoming a parent. I connect with how [the figures]approach thinking critically about how we take care of other people and the planet.”
This universality allows Simpson’s work to appeal widely beyond the contexts of clay, Pueblos, or even the Southwest.
“It’s more interesting to think about Rose as one of the most interesting contemporary artists working today – full stop – without always having the lens be her identity,” De Blois explains. “Her work is so much more about humanity and reflecting ourselves more broadly, thinking about larger questions related to humanity, rather than through just the lens of her as a Native American artist.”
Simpson, likewise, is not creating for a Native audience.
“Not a lot of my work is intended for my community. It’s intended to be in conversation with the Other. It’s intended to be in conversation with the people who don’t understand what we’re navigating,” she told First American Art Magazine.
Sculptures on view range from intimately scaled works to monumental standing figures.
“To me, these figures are striving to be better for themselves and occupy the world differently, in a way that has a healthier relationship to everything around them,” De Blois said. “They’re so beautiful, and they’re so porous, and they’re so open to whatever relationship you will have with them. That’s the beauty of figurative sculpture: we can see ourselves in them.”
Simpson’s connection to New England further interested the museum in exhibiting her work. She received her master of fine arts degree 50 miles from Boston in Providence at the Rhode Island School of Design.
“When I lived in Providence, I fell so deeply in love with Providence. If I hadn’t been super connected to my community, I probably would have stayed there,” Simpson recalled. “There’s an energy in places. I used to ride my bike around the city through all the seasons, in the fall with the leaves, and in the spring with the flowers. I was there the winter – I think it was 2010 – and it snowed eight feet. It was spectacular. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Everyone was griping, and I was just in absolute bliss that it kept snowing and there were these walls of snow on the streets.”
Rose B. Simpson: Legacies can be seen at the ICA from August 11, 2022, through January 29, 2023 | link