Friday, April 26, 2019

Loophole of Retreat, Simone Leigh, Guggenheim

Loophole of Retreat, a new body of work by Simone Leigh, centers the experiences of black women. In the back corner of the room, a seemingly unidentifiable sound emanates from a grey concrete breeze block wall. As you move closer, the audio becomes clearer as recordings of protests, and newscaster's voices become discernable amongst the layered sounds. The alcove gives its name to the exhibition as a whole - Loophole of Retreat. This title is borrowed from the writing of a formerly enslaved abolitionist, Harriet Jacobs, who detailed her struggle for freedom. The word "retreat" suggests the action of withdrawing or moving back, either to a time of calm or after a battle. The title gives new meaning to the concrete wall, positioning it not just as an architectural structure but a line of defense or protection from the outside world, with the layered sounds serving as a reminder of black resilience against violence. 

Outside this corner are three of Leigh's large-scale sculptures, primarily bronze and stoneware. Closer to the entrance stands Panoptica, a towering terracotta chimney that rises out of a layered raffia skirt. The curve of the chimney, as well as its scale, suggest a periscope that looks out at the viewer. The name of this piece links this uneasy possibility of being watched in the gallery to the panopticon prison design, linking both to the realities of mass incarceration and Leigh's exploration of black womanhood. Next to Panoptica is Jug, one of many works by Leigh which uses the slim torso of a black woman connected to an inanimate object skirt. In this case, the skirt attached to the torso is formed by a water jug, the kind traditionally used by farm workers. By relating the bodies of women to everyday items, Leigh explores themes of objectification, labor, and agency. Leigh's work takes an intimate look into the black female experience, and uses the large physical scale of her pieces to compel the viewer's attention to the struggle against white supremacy and patriarchy. 


  1. I think you did a great job of explaining the physicality of the work, as well as the visual language you were encountering. I think your interpretation and analyze is very astute and well-articulated. This isn’t a criticism as much as a thought: it is interesting how the othered body is always already politicized. For instance, your connection of the periscope/chimney to the panopticon and then the panopticon to the grass hut and the artist’s exploration of the black female body which then leads to concepts of mass incarceration. That was not my first read but I think you’ve made a compelling argument.

  2. I appreciate your discerption of the work, with all the details you bring to viewers attention it's fair to say that you well understood what they were trying to showcase. Your review is also well structured, and the transition was smooth. However, I wish I could see your argument from the beginning of the review, that could give this review a clearer direction which allows viewers to develop their understanding along the way. It would also allow you to reinforce your Statement. Overall thought it's a really nicely wrote review.