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Diamonstein-Spielvogel Lecture Series
Zoe Leonard

January 28 at 2:00
East Building Auditorium
Zoe Leonard, artist, in conversation with Lynne Cooke, senior curator, special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art

Zoe Leonard, born in Liberty, New York, in 1961, is acclaimed for her work in sculpture and photography made over the past three decades. While the subject matter in her photography ranges widely, it is informed by an incisive critical scrutiny of the conventions, protocols, and politics of image making and display. Analogue, composed of 412 photographs taken with a vintage camera over the course of a decade, documents storefronts in her former neighborhood on New York’s Lower East Side, tracking the impact of urban gentrification and the recycling of textile merchandise to markets in countries oceans away. Her sculpture, similarly, draws on the vernacular—familiar, everyday materials—in order to address issues relating to loss and decay, transience and the passage of time. The row of blue suitcases in 1961 expands every time it is displayed, with another case added for each year of Leonard’s life; fruit peels—emptied of flesh, dried, and sutured—dot the floor in Strange Fruit, commemorating the deaths of the artist’s friends and others in the early days of the AIDS crisis.

In 1993 the filmmaker Cheryl Dunye approached Leonard about producing a trove of images recording the life and career of a fictional black lesbian actress working in Hollywood in the early twentieth century. Leonard constructed a resonant, multilayered album of the personal and professional life of the actress, Fae Richards, which included film stills from roles she might have played and snapshots recording casual moments at leisure with friends and lovers. Period-specific costumes and props as well as a variety of photographic processes and faux aging treatments contribute to the realism of the project without obscuring its invented origins. From this corpus of eighty-two images, some of which appeared briefly as props in Dunye’s film The Watermelon Woman (1996), Leonard created The Fae Richards Photo Archive, which she first exhibited at the 1997 Whitney Biennial.

Leonard’s artworks have been featured in numerous solo and group shows and biennials, including a 2007 retrospective that toured in Europe, exhibitions at Dia Art Foundation in 2010 and the Museum of Modern Art in 2015, Documentas IX and XII, and the Whitney Biennials in 1993, 1997, and, most recently, 2014, when she won the Bucksbaum Award. Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Zoe Leonard: Survey will open at the Whitney Museum of American Art in March 2018. The Fae Richards Photo Archive is on view in the exhibition Outliers and American Vanguard Art at the National Gallery of Art through May 13, 2018.

Zoe Leonard, The Fae Richards Photo Archive (detail), 1993-1996, 78 gelatin silver prints, 4 chromogenic prints, and notebook of 6 pages of typescript on paper, Private collection

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