Gary Simmons

Commissioned by Frieze Projects. Presented with Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Metro Pictures, New York

Backdrop Project, 1993-2020

Gary Simmons for Frieze Projects with Regen Projects and Metro Pictures, Frieze Los Angeles 2020. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh. Courtesy of Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze

From his first sculptural works in the early 1990s, up through his large-scale paintings and installations, Gary Simmons (b. 1964, New York; lives in Los Angeles) has used multiple aesthetic approaches to address popular and vernacular culture.

Simmons has manipulated the language of minimalism, with its structural and serial aims, into his own exploration of power and (in)visibility in U.S. history. He has also examined sites of cinematic self-representation incorporating his research into African American filmmakers on to canvas paintings and murals.

In 1992, motivated by an interest in Black authorship and self-fashioning, Simmons set up a portable photo studio with painted 'backdrop' paintings at Harlem’s Rucker Park basketball courts and the African Street Festival in Brooklyn, offering free Polaroids to those he photographed. The thirteen paintings that served as portrait backdrop were shown alongside the almost 850 instant photos at Metro Pictures in 1993. Simmons revives the project and will offer complimentary photographs to select participants during the run of Frieze Los Angeles.