Lorna Simpson's Gathered: Creating Myth and Mystery

A closeup of  a photo installation by Lorna Simpson at the Brooklyn Museum
      I recently had a chance to see Lorna Simpson: Gathered, now on display in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. With Gathered, the artist brings together unidentified photographs of African American women to create compelling narratives. According to the show's didactic, "Lorna Simpson: Gathered presents works that explores this Brooklyn-born artist's interests in the interplay between fact and fiction, identity and history. Through works that incorporate hundreds of original and found vintage photographs of African Americans that she collects from eBay and flea markets, Lorna Simpson undermines the assumption that archival materials are objective documents of history."
Lorna Simpson's installation of vintage photo booth pictures

   On one wall of the exhibition space, tiny vintage photo booth pictures of African American women are displayed in wooden frames, and spaced out so that when the viewer stands back, they almost look like a cloud. There are also small abstract ink pieces painted by the artist floating in between the photographs which are meant to represent the mystery of who these women are and what their lives were like. They are compared to that feeling of curiosity and loss one has when going through an old photo album and finding bits of paper and glue where pictures have been torn out. What piece of the puzzle is missing?

On the opposite wall hangs May June July August, '57/'09, a series of 123 pin-up style photo portraits featuring two women and a man. "Simpson juxtaposes images of a young African American woman (and an occasional male figure) who posed for pinups in Los Angeles in 1957 with self portraits in which the artist acts as a doppelganger for the model. She replicates with precise detail the poses and settings of the original photographs, arranging the work in grid patterns. Linking the historical photographs with her staged responses  creates a fictionalized narrative in which the two characters appear to be linked across history in a shared identity or destiny."
'57/'09 photographs of the artist and unknown model. Lorna Simpson wears black top and white skirt.
  This series of photographs marks a turning point for Simpson's work, as she has never placed herself in any of her works.The photos are beautifully staged, and it is hard to tell the artist's photos apart from those shot in 1957.
Lorna Simpson's '57/'09
Both installations raise some fascinating questions about lost histories and reinvention. When looking at an unidentified photograph, one can view it through the lens of loss and displacement or as an object that is teeming with the possibilities of new stories waiting to be told, and new meaning and context waiting to be created. 

Lorna Simpson: Gathered is on display in the