Arthur Simms
And I Say, Brother Had A Very Good Day, One Halo
November 5, 2020–January 15, 2021
Martos Gallery
New York, NY

41 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 1001

Arthur Simms’ practice comprises a prolific output of sculpture, as well as dimensional paintings and drawings. Born in Saint Andrew, Jamaica (1961), Simms was inspired in early childhood by the improvisationally constructed carts he saw transporting goods to and from the market (he lived in Kingston until age 7, when his family moved to New York). Through Simms’ fluency with this sort of construction—clearly articulating a singular form using many disparate elements—he developed a formal lexicon that mimics the effects of diaspora, coinciding dispersion, and wholeness. Using natural material, found objects, items of autobiographical significance, and, consistently, wire or hemp rope as a binding agent, Simms’ body of sculpture comprises a vast diversity of forms. Some sculptures stand monumentally as imposing accumulations of twine; others are drawn into space. At times, Simms frames the readymade in ritually oriented displays, such that the found object in the gallery appears preordained, rather than decontextualized.

Simms’ debut exhibition with Martos Gallery surveys over thirty years of production, capturing the broad range of his visual vocabulary. On view are some of Simms’ earliest twine works: formidably scaled sculptures bound with knots, webs, and repetitive encirclings of twine. Wrapped until nearly opaque, these forms selectively reveal their composite armatures, formed by found objects that underscore the sculptures’ scale: pushcarts, parking cones, unresolved paintings, boots, clothing and more. Views between intersections of rope reveal complex interiorities that add to the sculptures’ anthropomorphism. Simms’ sculptures are dedications to loved ones, intimations of stored memories, and decisively contemporary quotations of ritual and art historical formats. Icema and Chester (1989 – 1992) represents Simms’ parents; And He Passes (1993), is a memorial to David Fisch, an artist and friend who died from AIDS complications. Bicycle (1996) employs wire rather than twine as what Simms terms a binding agent, rendering his sculptural components legible. Inspired by Willem de Kooning’s Woman on a Bicycle (1952 – 53), the abstract expressionist’s fragmenting and doubling are made literal in this work, as Simms physically stacks two bikes, then stamps his four-wheeled object with multiple license plates to confirm its transformation. An old-fashioned toilet hovers near the bike handles, evoking Duchamp’s materials alongside the proliferation of wheels, but the plasticity Simms extracts from common objects align him more closely with his painterly inspiration. To Explain, Expound And Exhort, To See, Foresee and Prophesy, To The Few Who Could Or Would Listen (1995) bases its overall form on Ethiopian processional crosses, and its title on a poetic lamentation by Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, describing his role as a messenger to a reluctant Western audience. Spiked with rusty knives in reference to Mambele, or African throwing knives, the work also alludes to Simms’ time as an art handler in the 1980s, handling material questionably acquired from other cultures.

Simms’ drawings, one of which is suspended in the gallery space, are inspired by Aboriginal art in their integration of natural objects, specifically the hovering branches that the artist designates as halos. The drawings combine craft in the form of methodical sewing and collected buttons; sculptural patches of the artist’s hair and that of his partner, artist Lucy Fradkin; surfaces such as acetate and aluminum; and photographs and postcards of personal significance to the artist. The exhibition’s eponymous drawing memorializes Simms’ sister, Grace, and her son, Daniel. Centered in the drawing is a photograph of Grace, Daniel, and Grace’s other son, David, smiling on a beautiful, sunny, very good day.

Arthur Simms is the recipient of many prestigious grants and awards including The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (2007); The American Academy of Arts and Letters (2006); The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1999/2000); Prix de Rome (2002/2003); The Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (1997); and many others. He is Program Director and Professor of the Arts at CUNY, LaGuardia Community College, New York. Simms also serves on the Board of Directors of MacDowell, Peterborough, NH, and the Board of Governors of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME. Recent exhibitions include Throughline, Shoot the Lobster, New York (2019); and the 58th Venice Biennale (2019). Arthur Simms will participate in the Kingston Biennial this summer.

—Katherine Siboni