Gagosian is pleased to present A Burn Scar Visible from Space, photographs from Taryn Simon’s ongoing series Black Square, begun in 2006.
Pink and yellow slips of paper announce the results of the ballot count in Haringey, London, for the European Union membership referendum; a billion-dollar Zimbabwean banknote marks the rapid decline of the nation’s currency; an empty 80-foot pedestal in New Orleans recalls the sanctioned removal of a statue of Confederate army commander Robert E. Lee by a crew wearing bulletproof vests; a charred palm tree, brought to California from the Canary Islands to populate large residential estates, has both fueled and survived a devastating wildfire; a Picturephone from 1964, deemed unnecessary at the time of its release, is an obsolete prototype for present-day video communication; and the dark power of 3-D printing is made clear with a gun named The Liberator, the plans for which can be downloaded by anyone with a Wi-Fi connection.
In the Black Square photographs, Simon presents objects, documents, and individuals in a black field given the same dimensions as Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 painting of the same name. Selected without any intentional categorization, Simon’s subjects form a randomized index of human invention and activity. They are fragments of recent history—detached from context and freighted with anxiety.
In 1915, World War I was far from over. Chlorine gas was used as a war weapon for the first time. Pluto was photographed, though not yet discovered. It was the eve of the October Revolution. Malevich described his work—a thickly painted black square, set within a white border—as the “icon of [his] era,” an eclipse for the modern gaze. This description set his painting in direct opposition to (or, perhaps, in alignment with) popular religious icons.
In 2019, icons are to be found not only in a church’s candlelit interior: political leaders, scientists, and activists are icons; the apps and logos on our phone screens are icons. In a mutating echo of Malevich’s Black Square, every major cellular device and digital platform has its own version of a black square emoji, but none agree on what it represents.
Witnesses to both ingenuity and mortality, most of the objects in Simon’s photographs will outlive us all. This is especially true for Black Square XVII, an 80-by-80-by-80-cm cube containing a mass of vitrified nuclear waste that will remain in Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation until the year 3015, when it will finally be safe for human observation. Charged with the uncertainties of the future, Simon’s black squares reveal what we have done, and ask what we’ll do next.
Taryn Simon and Teju Cole
This spring, as part of the Lambert Family Lecture Series at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Taryn Simon joined Teju Cole for an online conversation about her artistic practice and creative process.
Taryn Simon: An Occupation of Loss
In Taryn Simon’s performance work An Occupation of Loss (2016), professional mourners enact rituals of grief, simultaneously broadcasting their lamentations from within a sculptural installation. This video by filmmaker Boris B. Bertram documents the April 2018 performance of this work with Artangel in Islington, London.
The New York Public Library’s Picture Collection
Joshua Chuang, the Robert B. Menschel Senior Curator of Photography at the New York Public Library, discusses the institution’s singular Picture Collection, the artist Taryn Simon’s rigorous engagement with it, and four instances of its little-known role in the history of art making.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2021
The Summer 2021 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Carrie Mae Weems’s The Louvre (2006) on its cover.
Cast of Characters
James Lawrence explores how contemporary artists have grappled with the subject of the library.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2019
The Summer 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Afrylic by Ellen Gallagher on its cover.
June 23–29, 2021
A storyteller and researcher driven by the mutability of fact and the documentary potential of fiction, Taryn Simon directs our attention to systems of organization—bloodlines, circulating picture collections, mourning rituals, ceremonial flower arrangements—revealing the structures of power and authority hidden within. Working in photography, sculpture, text, sound, performance, and installation, she traces lineages of objects, families, nations, and histories.
Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
The Color of a Flea’s Eye: The Picture Collection
July 14–September 11, 2021
976 Madison Avenue, New York
Extended through May 19, 2018
Paperwork and the Will of Capital
February 27–May 19, 2018
Merlin Street, Athens