UT Landmarks acquires Simone Leigh sculpture

EXCLUSIVE | The monumental bronze sculpture is the first artwork by a Black woman in the University of Texas public art collection


A 10-foot bronze sculpture by celebrated New York-based artist Simone Leigh will soon grace the courtyard fronting the renovated Anna Hiss Gymnasium on the University of Texas campus.

Cast in bronze and modeled after a Zulu ceremonial spoon, “Sentinel IV” (2020) reflects Leigh’s practice of using forms from African or African diasporic culture to honor and elevate the labor of Black women.

Landmarks, UT’s public art program, announced the acquisition today. “Sentinel IV” is Landmark’s fourth purchase and the first in its collection by a Black woman. UT paid $378,000 for the sculpture, a Landmarks representative said.

“Sentinel IV” will be unveiled on July 15.

 “Simone Leigh’s sculpture is an offering that can begin conversations,” Landmarks Founding Director and Curator Andrée Bober said in a statement. “I hope it promotes a space where various histories can be told, and different voices can be heard.” 

Leigh will be the first Black women to represent the United States at the Venice Bieannale where next year she will create the American pavilion’s exhibition. In 2019, her 16-foot-tall commission for the High Line art park in New York was unveiled, the monumental bust “Brick House.” Leigh is the recipient of the Guggenheim Museum’s coveted Hugo Boss Prize, among other awards.

Primarily a sculptor, Leigh has described her process as “auto-ethnographic.” Her artworks often merge the female body with vernacular objects and architectural constructions, the female form abstracted and blended in. The ceremonial spoon referenced in “Sentinel IV” is a utensil that conveys status among the Zulu people.

Simone Leigh Sentinel IV, 2020 Bronze 128 x 25 x 15 inches Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Simone Leigh, “Sentinel IV,” 2020. Bronze 128 x 25 x 15 inches. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Leigh also engages in social practice art that directly involves the public. Her 2014 project “Free People’s Medical Clinic” involved creating a walk-in health and wellness center in the historic Stuyvesant Mansion, a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood once owned by Josephine English (1920-2011), the first African-American woman in New York State to have a obstetrical-gynecological practice.

Stephanie Sparling Williams, a Black feminist scholar and associate curator at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, will serve Landmark’s curatorial contributor for “Sentinel IV.” She will author a scholarly essay and narrate an audio tour, both of which will available free to the public.

“Leigh is one of the greatest artists working in this moment,” Sparling Williams said in a statement. “Her sculptures are beautifully worked and her feminine forms, in particular, are fiercely rendered. In ‘Sentinel IV,’ Leigh masterfully crafts poetry in bronze… [It] is especially exciting to see her work installed in an academic setting with such rich history and cultural vibrancy.”

Simone Leigh photographed in her studio, 2020 © Simone Leigh Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Simone Leigh photographed in her studio, 2020 © Simone Leigh. Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Public programming surrounding the sculpture’s unveiling include a university-wide conversation for students and faculty with Leigh and UT Austin art history professor Cherise Smith, chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department. Separately, a public celebration will be hosted by Landmarks with a virtual Q&A led by Sparling Williams and the artist for its unveiling on July 15.

Built in 1931 as the Women’s Gymnasium, and named for UT’s pioneering professor of physical education, the Anna Hiss Gymnasium is undergoing a $24.5 million renovation to convert it into a robotics research facility.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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