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Untitled (the failure of Sylvester)

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Untitled (the failure of Sylvester)

61 x 41 1/8 x 1 3/4 in. (154.9 x 104.5 x 4.4 cm)

Lorna Simpson
United States

Object Type: Photograph
Medium and Support: Archival gelatin prints under Plexiglas with black vinyl lettering
Credit Line: Marion Stratton Gould Fund
Accession Number: 2003.4
Link to this object
Location: Not currently on view
Artists Proofs: 1

Lorna Simpson's art defies easy explanation. Inspired by diverse sources, it contains cinematic allusions, references to popular culture, as well as personal narrative. It is intentionally complex and ambiguous. Simpson's goal is to make the viewer think and reflect - about race, about class, about gender.

Untitled (the failure of Sylvester) seems at first glance to be a random grouping of words and images. A closer look reveals that the photographs depict a woman whose face we never quite see - in four of the images, her face is deliberately obscured. Does this suggest that the African-American woman is not actually seen, and is invisible in American culture?

What is the meaning of the text? Like the images, the texts are allusions to mainstream perceptions of the African-American. The Failure of Sylvester is the title of a painting by the Ashcan artist Robert Henri. Sylvester, a young African-American and the artist's model for the painting, has fallen asleep - has 'failed' as a model.

[Gallery label text, 2004]

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Web Links See links to web pages and lesson plans
Seeing America Inservice Materials from a teacher in-service presentation Spring 2008
Seeing America Chapter on Lorna Simpson's Untitled (The Failure of Sylvester), written by Gretchen Sullivan Sorin.

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