The J. Paul Getty Trust announced today it will present the annual J. Paul Getty Medal, its highest honor, to the artists Lorna Simpson and Ed Ruscha and renowned Classicist Professor Mary Beard.
Established in 2013 by the trustees of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the J. Paul Getty Medal has been awarded to 11 distinguished individuals to honor their extraordinary contributions to the practice, understanding and support of the arts.
“We award the Getty Medal to recognize outstanding achievement in the fields in which we work,” said Maria Hummer-Tuttle, chair, J. Paul Getty Board of Trustees. “We are honored to present the medal this year to three leaders who have helped transform and deepen our understanding and appreciation of the visual arts and the humanities.”
James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, said of artist Lorna Simpson, “She is at once a photographer and multimedia artist whose work is both trenchant in its critique of race, gender, and identity, and exquisite in its formal beauty and technical execution.”
“I am humbled by this honor,” said Ms. Simpson. “I am so thrilled to receive the Getty Medal.”
The awards will be presented in September at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.
Past recipients of the J. Paul Getty Medal have included Harold Williams and Nancy Englander, who were honored for their leadership in creating today’s Getty; Lord Jacob Rothschild, for his leadership in the preservation of built cultural heritage; Frank Gehry, for transforming the built landscape with buildings such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall; Yo-Yo Ma, for his efforts to deepen understanding of the world’s diverse cultures; Ellsworth Kelly, for paintings and sculptures of the highest quality and originality; Anselm Kiefer, for his powerful, complex paintings and sculptures; Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian writer, politician, journalist, college professor and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature; Thelma Golden, for her influential leadership; Agnes Gund, for her philanthropy and commitment to justice; and sculptor Richard Serra, who expanded our definition of sculpture.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lorna Simpson came to prominence in the 1980s with her pioneering approach to conceptual photography. Ms. Simpson’s early work – particularly her striking juxtapositions of text and staged images – raised questions about the nature of representation, identity, gender, race, memory, and history that continue to drive the artist’s expanding and multi-disciplinary practice today, with painting, drawing, film, collage and sculpture now subject to her alchemy. Over the course of three decades, Ms. Simpson has emerged as a leading voice in a generation of American artists questioning constructed historical narratives and the performative crafting of identity. She deftly examines the slippery nature of representation and meaning to reveal the ways in which larger cultural forces impact the everyday in an enigmatic and profound art.
Ms. Simpson earned a BFA in photography from New York’s School of Visual Arts in 1983 and an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego in 1986. Studying on the West Coast in the mid-1980s, she engaged conceptual approaches to undermine the credibility and apparent neutrality of language and images. Her most iconic works from this period depict African American figures as seen only from behind or in fragments. Photographed in a neutral studio space, the figures are tied neither to a specific place nor time. Drawing upon a long-standing interest in poetry and literature, the artist accompanies these images with her own fragmented text, which is at times infused with the suggestion of violence or trauma. The incredibly powerful works entangle viewers in an equivocal web of meaning, with what is unseen and left unsaid as important as that which the artist does disclose.
In the late 2000s, Ms. Simpson began to work with found photographs of largely African American women sourced from discarded Associated Press images, vintage Jet and Ebony magazines, and archives of anonymous portraits. Simpson re-enacts various scenes, playing both the female and male roles. Interspersing the new images alongside the vintage in one sprawling installation, she skillfully threads together the dichotomies of past and present, male and female, and fact and fiction.
Ms. Simpson’s most recent paintings, collages, and sculptures continue to draw upon her extensive collection of vintage magazines from the 1950s onwards, which the artist views as archives of American history. She juxtaposes appropriated images of women from the postwar era and found text with AP photographs of natural elements, such as fire, ice, and water, creating bewitching compositions that seem to teeter on the verge of disaster. Large-scale panels are then shrouded in inky, hazy washes of India ink and paint, further abstracting the works into surreal clouds of uncertainty.
Ms. Simpson’s work has been the subject of much critical acclaim and has been widely exhibited, including at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago IL; the Miami Art Museum, Miami, FL; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland. She has participated in important international exhibitions such as the Hugo Boss Prize at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, Documenta XI in Kassel, Germany; and the 44th and 56th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy; where she was the first African American woman to be shown in 1990. Ms. Simpson has been the subject of numerous articles, catalogue essays, and monographs published by Phaidon Press and Chronicle Books.
Ms. Simpson’s first mid-career survey was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Miami Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Gibbes Museum in South Carolina with an accompanying monograph published by the American Federation of the Arts, New York, NY, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. In 2013, her works on paper were the subject of an exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum with accompanying catalogue, “Lorna Simpson Works on Paper.” A survey retrospective, accompanied by a monograph, “Lorna Simpson” published by Prestel Press, New York, NY, premiered in 2013 at the Jeu de Paume, Paris, France, and traveled to the Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, and in 2014 to the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England, and the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA. In 2016, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX, presented a solo exhibition of recent work.
The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades.