John E. Dowell, Jr Sam Gilliam Felrath Hines Gordon Parks Lorna Simpson Richard Hunt Romare Bearden John Woodrow Wilson Robert Colescott Adrian Piper Renée Stout Eldzier Cortor Richard Mayhew Carl Pope
African American Art Text Graphic

Lorna Simpson

III, 1994

Lorna Simpson’s III is a bit of an anomaly in her oeuvre. It is small and sculptural, rather than large and photographic. The piece consists of three mixed-media wishbones—one semi-translucent rubber, one black metal, and one cream-colored clay —placed in a felt setting within a wooden box. The wishbones refer to the three wishes that are traditionally offered by a genie in a fairy tale and challenge the viewer to consider what he or she might wish for if given the opportunity. The portable bones-in-a-box motif harks back to medieval reliquaries, while the work’s humor, word play, and ambiguity follow in a Dadaist tradition. Simpson’s presentation of three similar items suggests Marcel Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages (1913), while her use of felt and “bones” recalls the work of German sculptor Joseph Beuys.

Nevertheless, Simpson takes a postmodern approach that is both personal and universal. She wants her works to be open-ended enough for viewers to be able to interpret the imagery in the way that best suits them, while at the same time evoking (or provoking) a deeper social dialogue. In this piece, the variously colored wishbones imply issues of race. Are we all really the same underneath our skin, or do differences of color permeate to our core? By using a simple, recognizable symbol, minimal words, and color, Simpson suggests a wish for racial equality. This message of hope was particularly appropriate to III, which was sent out by the Norton family as a holiday greeting.

Simpson received an MFA in visual arts from the University of California, San Diego. Since 1980 she has exhibited her work in numerous solo and group exhibitions in both public and private institutions around the world. She is best known for her innovative use of text with sequential photographic imagery. Her plays on words present interesting ideas that can be skewed in a variety of directions. In her art, Simpson often deals with subjects of race, gender, culture, and identity.

Romare Bearden, The Family

Lorna Simpson
American, b. 1960
III, 1994
Wood, felt, clay, metal, and rubber
H. 2 1/8 x w. 5 3/8 x d. 13 5/8" (5.3 x 13.6 x 34.6 cm)
Gift of the Peter Norton Family, IU Art Museum 94.218
Art © Lorna Simpson


Romare Bearden
Robert Colescott
John E. Dowell, Jr
Sam Gilliam
Felrath Hines
Richard Hunt
Gordon Parks
Adrian Piper
Lorna Simpson
John Woodrow Wilson
Renée Stout
Eldzier Cortor
Richard Mayhew
Carl Pope