Inside Simone Leigh’s Long-Awaited U.S. Pavilion, Where Black Women Take Center Stage

After two years of anticipation, Simone Leigh’s United States Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is finally here.

The good news is that the pavilion, which is commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston and curated by the institution’s chief curator Eva Respini, lives up to the hype. The bad news is that there are only a handful of works, though U.S. visitors have little to worry about, given that the ICA Boston is currently at work on a Leigh survey that will include an opportunity to see a version of this pavilion again.

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The ideas that have gained Leigh attention—the necessity of honoring Black women, the reinterpretation of racist tropes to less oppressive ends—are still present here. So too are the oblique references to various historical happenings laced through her work.

Most will come expecting sculpture from Leigh, and there is plenty of it here—the pavilion even includes some of the biggest pieces she’s ever produced. But there is also a film she made with Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich that offers a look at a lesser-known side of her oeuvre. All of the works are new.

And while what’s housed within the pavilion’s walls is certainly the main attraction, there is one crucial aspect that has not yet happened.

Leigh will host on events that convene Black femme thinkers of all kinds. Rashida Bumbray, director of culture and art the Open Foundations Society, is set to organize one in October at the Biennale as part of this pavilion. Its name will be “Loophole of Retreat: Venice,” a reference to the name given to the 2019 Guggenheim Museum exhibition Leigh had after she won the institution’s Hugo Boss Prize.

Below, a tour of Leigh’s U.S. Pavilion.


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