January 14, 2020

Diane Simpson
Cardboard-Plus, 1977-1980

Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University

Diane Simpson, Corrugated Drawing, 1978. Corrugated board, graphite, 110 × 46 × 18 inches. Courtsey of the Artist; Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago; JTT, New York; and Herald Street, London.

Diane Simpson: Cardboard-Plus, 1977-1980 exhibits the artist’s large-scale cardboard sculptures and collaged constructions shown together here for the first time in 40 years. Created soon after completing her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1978, at the age of 43 these sculptural works were last exhibited collectively in Simpson’s first two solo exhibitions at Artemisia Gallery, Chicago (1979) and at Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York (1980). These important early works are already emblematic of the artist’s mature style and show Simpson’s transition from her studies in drawing and printmaking into sculpture, the medium that would become the focus of her decades-long career.

Although these works are from early in Simpson’s career, they are consistent with her enduring characteristic solutions to the challenges of sculpture. Already you can see her incorporation of a 45-degree rotation in her sculptures, allowing viewers to simultaneously approach the front and the side views of the objects. This is a sculptural translation of a perspectival drawing technique for rendering three dimensions in two. When constructed in three dimensions the resultant sculptures appear stripped of their illusions. Though static in nature the sculptures almost appear to hover, suspended between each perspective. These early large-scale cardboard works are also drawing surfaces with intricate graphite lines, sometimes textural and sometimes describing other geometric spaces drawn directly on the cardboard. A few are titled simply as “corrugated drawings.” Sculpture as drawing supporting drawing. Drawing as sculpture. Drawing supported by objects rendered from drawing.

Another enduring characteristic of Simpson’s early work is her anti-illusionistic use of quotidian materials. There is a directness and sincerity to her sculpture. Materials are literal and their construction methods are laid visible. Cardboard was a pragmatic solution to creating easily-transportable works without a studio space. Before converting the garage into her studio, Simpson cut these cardboard pieces with a jigsaw on the dining room table. Resembling a sewing practice, each cut piece is an interlocking planar shape supporting each other to additively compose a volume. Works that at first glance appear almost industrially-produced upon closer reflection reveal slight moments of the presence of the artist’s hand and her idiosyncratic engineering solutions.

Most well-known is Simpson’s later work which contains references to the architecture of clothing and elements of fashion; and has been the subject of recent important solo museum exhibitions at The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2015), the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2016), and the 2019 Whitney Biennial. In contrast the works in Diane Simpson: Cardboard-Plus, 1977–1980 are much more formal in nature. These works, not included in the museum exhibitions above, expand the narrative of Simpson’s career, show the scale of her ambition and illuminate her path into sculpture.

Diane Simpson, born 1935, is a Chicago-based artist who for the past forty years has created sculptures and preparatory drawings that evolve from a diverse range of sources, including clothing, utilitarian objects, and architecture. She has exhibited widely in the US and abroad, most recently at the 2019 Whitney Biennial. In 2010, a thirty-year retrospective was held at the Chicago Cultural Center, and she has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. In 2019 Simpson was one of the ten recipients of the "Anonymous Was a Woman" award. Her artwork is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; Illinois State Museum, Springfield, Illinois; Perez Museum, Miami, Florida; and the Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco, California and Paris, France. She received a BFA in 1971 and an MFA in 1978 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Simpson is represented by Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago; JTT, New York; and Herald St., London.

Public programs
In conjunction with the exhibition, a related series of public programs include an artist talk by Matt Keegan, a presentation by poet Susan Howe and musician/composer David Grubb of the soundwork WOODSLIPPERCOUNTERCLATTER, and a commissioned performance by Millie Kapp and Matt Shalzi made in response to Simpson and the architectural space of the gallery itself. Dates, times, and locations can be found below. Additional information about these program can be found on

Matt Keegan, Artist talk, Tuesday, February 4, 2020, 4:30pm, Zilkha Gallery 202

Susan Howe & David Grubbs, WOODSLIPPERCOUNTERCLATTER, Tuesday, February 11, 2020, 4:30pm, Zilkha Gallery

Millie Kapp & Matt Shalzi, Performance, Thursday, February 27, 2020, 5pm, Zilkha Gallery

Diane Simpson: Cardboard-Plus, 1977-1980 is curated by Benjamin Chaffee and organized by the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University. The exhibition will run from Tuesday, January 28 through Sunday, March 1, 2020, with an opening reception on Tuesday, January 28 at 4:30pm and an artist talk at 5pm. Gallery hours are Tuesday and Wednesday from Noon to 5pm; Thursday from Noon to 7pm; and Friday through Sunday from Noon to 5pm. Admission to the gallery and all related events is free and open to the public.

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