The National Gallery of Art has acquired Sentinel (2022) by Simone Leigh (b. 1967), the first work by the artist to enter the collection. Sentinel is a new edition of the sculpture from the US pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale, where Leigh was the first Black woman artist to represent the United States in the exhibitions 127-year history. Her work was also included in the Biennales central exhibition, The Milk of Dreams, for which she was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Participant. The sculpture will be installed in the East Building atrium in September 2023.
The acquisition was made possible through a gift of funds from the Glenstone Foundation.
We are thrilled to bring this exceptional work by one of Americas greatest living artists into the collection of the National Gallery of Art. Sentinel will stand tall in the East Buildings spacious atrium, a commanding contemporary presence among other monumental works of sculpture by Alexander Calder, Anthony Caro, Isamu Noguchi, and Richard Serra, said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Leigh has created a multifaceted body of work that includes sculpture, video, and installations. She describes her work as auto-ethnographic, in which she examines assumptions about the female body, race, beauty, and community. She incorporates materials, forms, and sculptural traditions from West and South Africa to explore Black female-identified subjectivity. Leighs work also refers to early African American forms, such as the face jugs of the American South, as well as Americana. Her salt-glazed ceramic and bronze sculptures often employ forms traditionally associated with African art, while her performance-influenced installations create spaces in which historical precedent mixes with self-determination.
More than 16 feet tall, Sentinel towers over the viewer, suggesting a lookout or guard who keeps watch over the world around it. Leigh has created her own formal vocabulary that involves the abstraction of the female body, often representing it as an architecture, as seen in the scale and columnar form of Sentinel. The bronze sculpture creates a long elegant black line, from its fused legs to its attenuated neck. It also features Leighs signature formal devices of the faceless figure and vessel-like head. The horizontally placed bowl on top of the figure recalls histories of labor and consumption of the body, while the erasure or elimination of the face suggests the historic anonymity and obscurity of Black women and femmes as well as their withholding of self as a form of protection and self-preservation. Sentinel recalls the influence of African forms in modern art, as its abstracted figure also suggests a nkisi or African power figure believed to contain divine energy and knowledge.
Simone Leigh (b. 1967)
Leigh was born in 1967 in Chicago and received a BA from Earlham College in 1990. Leighs monumental sculpture Brick House was the first artist commission for the High Line Plinth in New York. She received the prestigious Hugo Boss Prize in 2018 and has had solo exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum, Hammer Museum, Studio Museum in Harlem in Marcus Garvey Park, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (with Chitra Ganesh), New Museum, Creative Time, and The Kitchen. She has been included in group exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, New Museum, MoMA PS1, and DakArt 11th Biennale of Contemporary African Art. Her work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago, ICA/Boston, among others.
Black Art at the National Gallery
Sentinel (2022) by Simone Leigh joins works ranging from 19th-century to modern and contemporary pieces in the collection, including recently acquired works by David Drake, Dindga McCannon, Benny Andrews, Rashid Johnson, and Dread Scott, among others. The National Gallery recently mounted the exhibition Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South (2022), featuring 40 sculptures, assemblages, paintings, reliefs, quilts, and drawings acquired in 2020 from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, together with several related gifts as well as the landmark exhibition Afro-Atlantic Histories (2022) and James Van Der Zees Photographs: A Portrait of Harlem (2021). For more information about Black artists in the collection, visit nga.gov/features/black-artists.html