21 butter-hued felt canvases, each with a lithograph of a wig; accompanied by a number of much smaller felt canvases with slogans imprinted on them.


Hair signifies. What one does with one's hair, how one fashions one's hair, what one notices about another's hair, are guided by racial, ethnic, cultural, familial and religious conventions (and, of course, defiance of those conventions). No other part of the body is so ubiquitously attended to as an outward statement of who we are and where we (want to) fit in the world. Lorna Simpson's Wigs is a series of lithographs on felt, composed rather like portraiture on the walls of an aristocrat's manor. Critics are right to consider how her work is a commentary on race, with hair serving as a racial marker of differance, subject to celebration and derision.

We can also note that Wigs calls into question any such fixity, not only through the necessarily temporary nature of the wig, but also because however individual our hair may be, however much we identify it with our own particular look(s), and however much we invest hair with significance, portraiture of hair is startlingly anonymous; identity itself can be a costume. The repetition of various wigs in the collection, and the eye-catching blonde wig in particular, wryly invokes the oscillation of the individual with the crowd. The inclusion of a moustache is a witty marker of masculinity, bringing questions of gender into what would be assumed to be a site of feminity, and, off to one side, a small lithograph of a merkin (a pubic wig) serves as a reminder of the hair that grows elsewhere, and is a direct connection to the sexuality that the other wigs allude to so much more coyly.

In between the panels are smaller panels with repeated slogans relating to identity. The relationship of contemporary arts to the written word is a complicated one, all too often an unhappy codependency expressed in overwrought titles and the overly insistent interpretations by curators alongside ambitiously ambiguous pieces. The extent to which these smaller panels are extraneous, or cumbersome intrusions, or in some sort of artistic or aesthetic dialectic with the lithographs of wigs is uncertain, to my mind at least.


Created 1994

Primary Source

Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis